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Will Schube still can’t believe Larry David got Salman Rushdie to say ‘fatwa sex’ on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
I haven’t made it all the way through Harry’s House, the Grammy Award-winning soft rock pop album from Harry Styles. I’m apparently one of few. At those aforementioned 2023 Grammy’s, Styles took home “Album of the Year,” “Best Pop Vocal Album,” and “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.” It’s not that I found Harry’s House particularly bad, it’s just that I found the concept of listening to it from a critical perspective wildly uninteresting. This was poptimism taken a level too far. It didn’t matter that *Borat Voice* my wife had a not-subtle-at-all crush on him and grew mildly obsessed with “As It Was.” The moment came and went and I didn’t even have to see Don’t Worry Darling. I escaped the Year of Harry entirely unscathed and for that I consider myself lucky. It’s always when you think you’re done for good that they pull you back in.
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Harry’s House, three of my favorite musicians on earth decided to drop an impromptu front-to-back lounge jazz rendition of the project. Multi-instrumentalist Spencer Zahn recruited frequent collaborators and dear friends Dave Harrington and Jeremy Gustin to take on the album, and the end result is so delightful I’ve had to reorient some preconceived notions. While I may not be rocking a feather boa any time soon or shelling out a month’s salary for MSG tickets, this brilliant take on Harry’s House is a reminder that approaching work critically is important, but doing so with negative biases is rarely worthwhile. Let the work be the work and go from there. After all, if three of the best musicians on the planet deem Styles worth covering, there’s probably some good stuff happening in that work.
The origin story of the HGZ (Harrington, Gustin, Zahn) is a fun one, with Zahn encountering tons of Styles fans on the Subway after an MSG show. Zahn was heading home after a night playing bass in the pit of Moulin Rouge, and the camaraderie between the concertgoers was infectious.
Fast forward six-months later, Zahn–who plays with everyone from Dawn Richard to King Princess–was living solo in an upstate New York cabin nursing a heartbreak when Harrington came calling letting him know he booked a few trio gigs in LA. Zahn jumped at the opportunity and Harrington also suggested they record some new material, too. Gustin, a go-to drummer in the coastal indie rock and experimental circuits, suggested they take a stab at Harry’s House, which had recently taken home those Grammy. He’d yet to hear the project, which no one in the band had a real connection to but seemed like a fun challenge. Zahn, still curious about the cult of Harry after his subway encounter, decided it was a great idea.
This vaguely familiar approach is what gives the trio such an authoritative domain on their version of Harry’s House. It hints at the chords, ideas, and structures of the album but exists in a different language. It’s like encountering a translated novel; the ideas are inherently the same, but the tools to share these ideas are necessarily different.
“Music For a Sushi Restaurant” shuffles along with a snare-heavy drum groove, the light accent of vibraphones, a slippery bass groove, and reverb-heavy guitar chords that sound like they’re raining down from the cosmos. If anything, HGZ’s version of Harry’s House is a great audition for the band to hit the studio with the One Direction alumni next time around. “Cinema” plays like a dazed indie rock fantasy, kicking off like an old school desert highway jam before exploding into Springsteen-esque theatrics. The drums boom and the guitar chords shimmer, recreating something akin to The War On Drugs if that band was interested in dynamics between sections.
This new spin on Harry’s House is a delightful, expansive, hard-working reinterpretation of a not-so-complicated work. HGZ could have thrown something together and made a gimmicky beat-by-beat replay of Harry’s House. Perversely, that probably would have helped with blog coverage. But there is nothing saccharine about this trio’s honest attempt to excavate the most mainstream of mainstream pop music. They find moments that resonate and dissect them like a zoom lens focusing in on a target. It speaks to Harrington, Gustin, and Zahn’s shared improvisatory philosophy that the best moments in music are discovered, not created.