On lucky Friday the 13th, Harry Styles dropped his sophomore album Fine Line. A follow up to the acclaimed self-titled debut – or known to fans as HS1 – Styles delivers a foot tapping edition of love ballads involving mysterious women and secret rendezvouses. However, bewitching the guys and gals of the world with his charismatic rasp and soothing humming aren’t always enough to capture the hearts (and in this case, ears) of listeners. An honest attempt at a throwback in time, Styles clearly took notes from the greats and touched on them a bit too heavily, quite literally teetering on the fine line of who he hopes to be and what he actually is.
Styles smashes the production on this album with some reverberated acoustic strum and layered vocals. Missing the mark on connecting with the audience, Styles’ lyrics come across as simplistic and somewhat disjointed at times. Falling short of emulating who he is as an artist, instead screams from Canyon Moon, who he is not. In a recent interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe, Styles said that his process for writing this album was in favour of the way he likes to listen to them – from beginning to end. Reading like a narrative, the plot line of his contemporary romance has its moments of juicy dialogue before meeting the slump of filler drama and eventually reaches the climax before concluding with a somewhat promising future for the estranged couple.
The first track on the album Golden, presents itself as an intro song to what is sure to be ‘The Harry Styles Variety Hour’. A catchy jingle, Styles prepares you for the ride that is about to launch. On the surface level, this song seems to be happy and gearing you up for a boisterous chorus of rainbows and butterflies but does the complete opposite. He sings You’re so golden/You’re so golden/ I’m out of my head/ And I know that you’re scared/Because hearts get broken. A mix of dismal numbness, it feels almost wrong to want to sing to the tune once you realize how unacknowledged his affection for said someone are being reciprocated.
Lights Up was the first single off the album and is what garnered buzz around its release. Without any sort of warning, Styles dropped the single at the strike of midnight with a very sensually artistic video. Fans had rejoiced as they slowly crawled back into the palm of the superstar. The song was a hopeful foreshadow for what was to be delivered. And deliver he did; but only on the following two singles. Watermelon Sugar and Adore You were promiscuous and playful and undoubtedly the stars of the radio circuit. Styles’ capability to produce hits is uncanny. It’s through these three songs that we are caught mid breath and reminded of why his unique sound has us singing his rather depressing lyrics in an elevator. Leading up to the release of Adore You, fans were met with a host of cryptic ads from the country of Eroda; the fictitious island that is home to Styles and mythical sea creatures. Social media accounts were created by Styles’ team advertising holiday stays and a Twitter bio that states “Plan your trip to Eroda today!”. A clever execution that created a frenzy for fans alike until the release of the video, narrated by none other than the gem of Spain, Rosalia.
Bouncing off of the keen marketing of the latest single, one would expect the continued track list of the album to keep the same tonal rhythms and themes of the more mature sounding Styles that is singing about lusting after a woman that doesn’t seem to want to even be in his presence. Instead, we are gifted Falling, a piano accompanied ballad that is sure to have crowds at his upcoming arena tour screaming at the top of their lungs. An overall enjoyable listen to the untrained 1D ear, Falling is a sure next step for Styles to have in his collection. A safe but quizzical move for him, this song sounds more like a focused solo piece that could have been featured on one of the later One Direction albums and not a part deux to the Styles anthology.
Setting the scene for a breakup montage waiting to happen, She gives us everything we love about Styles and his writing. The chord progression, background choir and unexpected high notes are what keep fans on the edge of their seats and let them get their fix of Rockstar Styles. What feels like a sequel to Woman (featured on HS1), She utilizes all of the Styles’ talents of arrangement and a much-needed guitar solo at the end. He sings, She (She)/ she lives in daydreams with me (She)/ She’s the first one that I see, and I don’t know why/ I don’t know who she is (She). A complete departure from his boy band persona, Styles gets deep with this one and makes us want to revel in the feeling of rejection, especially when it sounds this good. Simply put, Woman walked so She could run.
Closing the album is the acoustic album title track, Fine Line. If one was hoping to escape the Harry Styles listening party dry eyed, think again. Similar to Meet Me in the Hallway and From the Dining Table, Fine Line carries over the torch of a self-proclaimed broken and emotional Styles. With this being his final attempt to persuade you to hop on the SS Styles steamboat, it is apparent that Styles’ goal is to have the listener feel out of touch with the reality of love and have one really resonate with what he hoped to communicate throughout his confessional. Despite the choppy waves and questionable direction, we still find ourselves buying a one-way ticket to adventure with Styles on his fantasy island and hand him a rating of 7/10.