By Kara Murray
After more than two years since the release of his self-titled debut album, English singer-songwriter and former boy band member Harry Styles finally dropped his sophomore effort Fine Line on December 13.
As someone who was possibly the biggest One Direction fan for most of my teenage years (and still is to this day), my support for each of the members has carried over into their solo careers and I was beyond excited for Fine Line to come out, especially when Styles started releasing singles in the weeks leading up to it.
The album opener, “Golden,” is a song with a very bouncy, 70s-psychedelic feel to it. The instrumentals are very laid-back, with the focus being on Styles’s voice and the back-up vocals singing behind him. It brings imagery of driving down a west coast highway at sunset, with lyrics that aren’t too complex.
The next three songs were already released by Styles as singles, so they were pretty familiar to me. Nonetheless, I enjoyed them as though I were hearing them for the first time. “Watermelon Sugar” is a song that can only best be described as refreshing. It’s mid-tempo and upbeat, with a more funky and brassy sound than the previous song. The chorus is repetitive and catchy, but immediately mellowed out by the post-chorus. I almost wish it wasn’t released in the middle of the winter, because it’s such a fun and summertime song.
“Adore You” is my favorite song out of the three singles. It’s tamer than “Watermelon Sugar,” and nothing new is really being done, but Styles’s voice is clear. The pounding, heavy drumbeat and funky rhythm guitar give way to a soulful 80s-inspired sound that is impossible not to dance to.
“Lights Up,” the first single he released, pales in comparison to how strong the previous two tracks were. Layering synth, guitars, keys, drums, bass, and harmonious vocals, the effort is there, but it feels too short, literally: an extra minute or so would improve it by miles.
However, it’s clear that the melancholy lyrics are meant to be the focus: with lines like “I’m not ever going back” and “Do you know who you are?” repeated over and over in the chorus, it’s a song about freedom and self-discovery. It’s no coincidence that it was released on National Coming Out Day in October.
On songs like “Cherry” and “Canyon Moon,” Styles moves away from the rock and funk for a moment and instead goes for a more folky, Americana, Fleetwood Mac-inspired sound. The former is a soulful, heartbreaking ballad whose lyrics mourn a lost relationship. The latter is more upbeat and full of whistling, handclaps, and harmonious vocals, but the lyrics are bittersweet and recall good days past.
The best song on the album by far is “Falling,” where Styles combines anguish, sincerity, and self-realization all into one moving lullaby. With just simple piano and Moog bass, it allows him to let his voice do all of the work. For me, that’s the greatest part: the unique instrumentals and sounds of his other songs are fun, but nothing will ever beat just hearing him stripped down at his best and most vulnerable.
The next two songs continue the saga of heartbreak and ending a relationship on this album. In “To Be So Lonely,” the lyrics read like a drunk phone call, Styles leaving a message for someone who is no longer in his life anymore. “She” is a bluesy, sweeping ballad that’s basically an excuse for Styles to have a six-minute experimental jam session while he sings in a mournful falsetto—and somehow, it works. The part that really completes it is the epic guitar solo by his guitarist Mitch Rowland.
“Sunflower Vol. 6” switches gears immediately. With a breezy ska rhythm, it’s a funky, happy-go-lucky song that sounds like it was bathed in California sunlight. “Treat People With Kindness” goes a little off the deep end. The chorus is delivered by what sounds like an old-fashioned choir and is a little too reminiscent of musical theater, but the message is sincere, since it’s one Styles has been championing since he started his solo career.
The last song, which the album was named for, slows things down. “Fine Line” starts off solemn, but ends on a more hopeful, upbeat note, with sweeping horns and the final lyrics being “We’ll be alright.”
In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Styles said he wanted to feel “less guarded, freer, more joyful.” With Fine Line’s sunny, genre-bending songs, he certainly accomplished that. It’s an album that manages to be both fun and heartbreaking, and one I’m happy to listen to over and over again.
Best Song: Falling
Best Lyrics: “I confess I can tell that you are at your best / I’m selfish so I’m hating it / I noticed that there’s a piece of you in how I dress / Take it as a compliment” —Cherry