Harry Styles’ Fine Line is a record comprised of beautifully intimate storytelling of heartbreak, lust, and enjoying life. “It’s all about sex and feeling sad,” he told Rolling Stone for his August 2019 feature. Everything’s a little distorted, sounds echo from every emotional direction, keeping you on your toes, switching from upbeat to melancholy in a three-minute track. At one moment, you can feel the loving gaze between partners with intense magnetic attraction, while at another you experience the decay and heartbreak of someone pleading with his ex to stop calling him “baby.”
The songs on this album present a man who’s afraid of becoming someone he’s not, but even more afraid of staying the same. A man who whoops and hollers during an LSD-infused guitar solo at the end of anecdotal, melodic “Sunflower, Vol. 6,” but also a man who plays a recording of his girlfriend speaking on the phone and inserts it in the end of a heartfelt, guitar-plucked breakup song.
Ultimately, Fine Line is the album that shows the maturation of the former One Direction singer.
His self-titled debut album was Style’s dipping his toes in the pool. It was just the beginning of a reflection upon his style as a musician and his attempt at being raw and emotional. “And I thought I was being so honest,” he told Rolling Stone, “just because there’s one line about having a wank.”
His sophomore album is a tale of love, heartbreak, drugs, and self-discovery through a genre-fluid musical medium. The love-struck third single “Adore You” is a poppy radio hit about Styles’ crush, for whom he’d “walk through fire,” whether they say they love him or not — a healthy upgrade from “Just let me know, I’ll be at the door/Hoping you’ll come around” from his solo debut’s “Meet Me in the Hallway.” Soft-rock “She” tells the story of a family man’s daily routine with a chorus of a woman who “lives in daydreams with me,” detailing the relatable sentiment of knowing exactly what or whom you’re searching for in life, but helpless in putting a name to a face.
One of the most impressive aspects of this record is it’s appeal to nearly every genre, without feeling like a caricature. “Canyon Moon,” a twangy guitar ballad satisfies the country category, and is endorsed by Fleetwood Mac legend and Styles’ close friend and mentor, Stevie Nicks. “Treat People With Kindness,” which happens to be the tag-line of his last tour, is a gospel, psychedelic anthem for self-expression and feeling good in your own skin.
“Cherry,” about French model and ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe (who’s voice echoes a soft “cou-cou” throughout the song) is our first glimpse at Harry’s true, raw emotions on the record. “I confess, I can tell that you are at your best/I’m selfish so I’m hating it,” is a line that would describe most wallowing in jealousy post-breakup, similar to the sentiment of “Woman” on his previous record. The plucking of an acoustic guitar with light harmonies gives an intimate feeling, like watching someone get drunk-sad next to a fireplace. It’s then supported by the slight wailing of an electric guitar in the background, and later the soft howling of styles, reminds us of how seriously he feels these delicate feelings.
“Falling,” arguably the most traditional sad-song song on the album, could easily be grouped in with an Adele or John Legend piano ballad. Both raw in tone and in continuity, Styles uses the famous belting that he contributed to One Direction’s tracks (see: Drag Me Down) for the line “and I get the feeling that you’ll never need me again.” The force and volume of the notes candidly enhances the pain that goes deeper than the music. The four-minute song describes heartbreak so beautifully that the listener almost feels the pain on his behalf, similar to the pathos of his debut album’s final track, “Meet Me in the Hallway” (“even my phone misses your call, by the way.”) Though on the surface it may seem only as a romantic heartbreak, it’s also a tale of the realization that you’re shifting into a faux personality. “I had started to feel myself becoming someone I didn’t want to be,” he told Zane Lowe in an Apple Music interview posted three weeks before the album’s release, “and that was really hard.”
Fine Line is a modern amalgamation of 60’s and 70’s rock influences, paired with acid-trip coloured beats and melodies. In this case, more is more, as the two 6+ minute-long songs are some of the strongest. “She” rocks the electric instruments, living the life of a rock star, whereas the final track and the album’s namesake, “Fine Line,” is the perfect finale. Soft, inspiring, calming, but turns into a feast of repetition of “we’ll be alright” in varying intensity with the support of a hazy drumroll and brass horns for an epiphany. Style’s taps into his harmonic falsetto, which almost gives the same effect as the split-track sound of “From the Dining Table” off his first album. One of the first tracks to be written, but the perfect fit for the last to be heard. “It started simple,” he told Rolling Stone, “but I wanted to have this big epic outro thing.”
Epic outro? Accomplished. Epic album? Let the third-best album debut of 2019 speak for itself.
Image Credit: Tim Walker/Columbia Records