★★★☆☆: 'Harry Styles' sheds limited light on the boy behind the band

One fifth of One Direction attempts to balance a popstar persona with a genuine desire

Christmas 2001 - I remember asking Santa for one thing very specifically (and explicitly) for Christmas.

Lots-a-Lots-a-Leggggggs were colourful, plush caterpillars with a multitude of legs, adorned with multi-coloured socks with sneaker-printed feet. They looked like the most fun thing a six-year-old could cart around that age.

Santa delivered - shoutout to the Big Man and his sled - but I soon found my new multi-limbed pal wasn't as much fun or as purposeful as children's advertising made it out to be.

That didn't take away from its niceness, its colour, its cute aesthetic. But at the end, what could you do with it other than hold it?

Harry Styles has, for the most part, left a similar impression on me. In interviews, the former One Direction member always across as the most genuine - nice, but not a try-hard. An average guy with an exceedingly above average following.

Public scrutiny focused on him from the off. Initially, it was his youth, his curls, his oft-remarked on cheeky chappy demeanour. Ultimately though, it was his brief relationship with singer Taylor Swift that made him the most talked about 1D boy. 

Styles went from boy to man as millions watched, growing out his hair, donning patterned suits and getting the obligatory transitional tattoos. Undoubtedly, he was the most fun to watch on tour - animated, interactive, jovial - even after Zayn Malik infamously left the band and put their future on hold.

On the band's last LP 'Made In The AM', Styles was charged with anchoring the vocal performances in Malik's absence, most notably on lead single Drag Me Down.

But who is Harry Styles - beyond a dimple-cheeked reality star and somebody's fling?

Playing dress-up

On his eponymous album 'Harry Styles' draws from all imaginable influences, bar any of the ones that dictated his old band's one and only direction.

Sign Of The Times channels Bowie, Robbie, and other strong male solo artists that flirt with femininity. It soars and sweeps - a meandering post-party anthem which manages to utilise his limited range.

On other outings, it's leather, swagger and fragrant masculinity - Kiwi calls for boot-kicking behind an uninspired Black Keys rip of a guitar line. Woman is a better effort - a sour growl boasting almost jazz-like percussion. Only Angel reeks of The Beatles in its playful delivery, but doesn't exactly push the boat out in terms of innovation within the genre. 

The topic of Styles' age regularly came up while competing on The X-Factor, yet he rarely, if ever, came across as immature or naive. Similarly, Styles was more than likely restricted in showing vulnerability while in the band, particularly post-Taylor Swift.

On the record, the moments of frankness are the strongest above all. Meet Me In The Hallway is a lonely little coda that strips the empire of his clothes, singing mournfully, "Even my phone misses your calls."

Two Ghosts is a soft country rock ramble, recounting a relationship ravaged by time. Sweet Creature - a sparse, plucky ballad which has drawn comparisons to The Beatles' Blackbird - features more of Styles aforementioned punchy, gleeful vocals.

Who is Harry Styles then? Is he the saviour of guitar music in a landscape of tropical house? Or is he merely a boy in lapels shunted into the spotlight? Ten tracks later, and I'm none the wiser.

Perhaps, like my Lots-a-Lots-Leggggggs doll, it was too much to ask of Styles to deliver something equal parts rambunctious and honest when he's still trying to figure out who he is beyond his own record collection. It's not necessarily a fun album, nor a sad album.  

It's by no means a great album, and yet, it's still more intriguing than some of his fellow bandmates previous solo offerings, (looking at you, Zayn). Fundamentally, Harry Styles remains a brand, an image, a doll to be dressed - and is still a bit off being an artist that is completely authentic.

'Harry Styles' is available everywhere now.