Every time I discuss Harry Styles, I have a strong compulsion to justify the discussion, to explain that his standing as a massive pop star of boy-band origin doesn’t preclude him from releasing great material in a different genre, that his first record is an excellent bit of retro-rock that warrants legitimate critical attention. And that explainer is all the justification I’m providing today, so hopefully it’s enough for you.
“From the Dining Table,” the finale of Styles’ eponymous debut, is sparse. The vast majority of the song is no more than a single acoustic guitar and Styles’ double-tracked vocal. It’s a credit to Styles and his co-writers that such a minimal arrangement never feels empty, that it instead feels rich and full.
That’s the idea, of course. The song is an expression of heartbreak and isolation and, having owned a guitar as a teenager, I can assure you that nothing sounds more like heartbreak and isolation than a single acoustic guitar and a double-tracked vocal, though unlike Styles’ smooth production that double-track in my experience always came from a single voice echoing off a bedroom wall.
“From the Dining Table” drops you right into that experience, only the songwriting is professional, the guitar is probably a 1960 Gibson Hummingbird and the bedroom wall is in a penthouse suite. The fullness of the experience is the same, though. There’s no feeling quite like being trapped in the space between what comes next and what just ended, stuck in an emotion that no longer exists, but only barely. It’s entirely isolating and completely claustrophobic. “From the Dining Table,” with its brief climax of string-arranged, harmonized clarity in the bridge, feels just like that. The feeling is miserable. The song, wonderful.