Kat takes a look at the second solo offering from former One Direction star turned solo artist, Harry Styles.
In 2017, Harry Styles showcased his solo career by smashing onto the music scene with his self-titled debut album, which landed him at number one in the UK Albums Chart. Fast forward to 2019 and Styles is back with his second album Fine Line. This album compared to his first is risky, varied and altered to what we know of his sound. Dominated with songs about his ex-girlfriend come muse Camille Rowe, Fine Line has left critics and fans alike split. Is this record dexterous and a step forward in his evolution as a solo artist, or is Styles another singer-songwriter that’s gone to LA and come out with an overproduced album with mediocre songs?
"Fine Line is a fine album with some golden nuggets dotted here and there."
The opening number Golden is one of Styles’ most striking songs and sets the theme for the rest of the album: heartbreak. The bittersweet lyrics about his lover being too good for him, intertwined with the dreamy reverb guitar and booming drums, makes the perfect recipe for a poignant yet upbeat track. Whether you’re on a summer road trip or alone at 3am, this song provides a fitting soundtrack to life’s most nostalgic moments.
The next three songs are the singles Styles brought out in the run up to the release of the album; and these are decidedly some of the better songs featured on Fine Line. Watermelon Sugar, enriched in imagery of fruit and sweetness, provides a breezy and summery sound. When asked by Zane Lowe if Watermelon Sugar was centred around “The joys of mutually appreciated oral pleasure”, Styles pleaded the fifth. Yet perhaps the inconspicuous lyrics are what gives this song its charm. In Adore You, Styles expresses his deep feelings for his lover, so much so that he would do anything for them: “I’d walk through fire for you, just let me adore you”. This atmospheric pop anthem is carried by a rich bass, topped with Styles’ smooth yet full vocals. As the first single from Fine Line, Lights Up situates itself as one of Harry’s most alt-poppy songs to date, with a beautiful choir on the chorus accompanied by electrical percussion and soft guitars. These three singles position themselves fully in the alt-pop genre, surely a step away from his 70s inspired rock debut album.
"Golden, Adore You, She and Sunflower, Vol. 6 prove themselves to be the best songs on this record, with the rest being either still great tunes but without the edge, or just mediocre numbers that any other artist could have produced."
The next three songs showcase the most venerable elements of Styles’ songwriting style. Cherry and To Be So Lonely feature gentle guitars with soothing vocals, the former being arguably his most telling song about his break-up with Rowe, with her voice even cropping up at the end of the track. Containing lyrics about his jealousy, missing her accent and her friends, this gentle folky ballad lined with quiet harmonies brings a melancholic and exposed element to the album. Falling is another, more mainstream ballad featuring on Fine Line. Styles’ honest, broken-hearted lyrics such as “You said you care, and you missed me too/And I'm well aware I write too many songs about you” are debatably the best element of the tune, yet one can’t help but feel like it’s another mediocre ballad with all-too-familiar repetitive piano chords. I feel like something is missing from this one, and I expected more from Harry.
In the Pink Floyd-ian track eight She, one can really locate Styles’ influences. In his recent interview with Rolling Stone, his most adored artists were brought to light; Fleetwood Mac, T-Rex, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and David Bowie to name a few. This six-minute poetic psych-rock ballad explores Harry’s soothing voice singing of a mystery woman, before a beautifully overwhelming guitar solo kicks in just after halfway. This solo is undoubtedly the finest part of this song, and is unmatched throughout the rest of the whole album. The man behind this was Harry’s guitarist Mitch Rowland - so for this intense, tasteful and compelling electric guitar solo, we have Rowland to thank (and the magic mushrooms he reportedly took to influence his songwriting). I unapologetically have it on repeat.
As noted in the beginning of this review, Fine Line is packed full of varied genres; alt-pop, psych rock, folk, etc. although this is no issue for me and I find it interesting how Styles is exploring these, I think my issue lies with the flow of this album. Following She comes Sunflower, Vol. 6 and although I do adore this summery love song with an extremely cute chorus, I do find it unusual how this happy pop song succeeds the dramatic psych-rock number. It feels out of place and immediately snaps the listener out of the intoxicating trance Styles has put them in. I admittedly feel the same with the last half of the album. From happy pop in Sunflower, Vol. 6 to the country acoustic Canyon Moon, followed by a strange sixties musical farrago in Treat People With Kindness to finish with an indie, quiet and harmonious tune in the album’s title track, the flow just doesn’t make sense and perhaps in a different order on this record they could have worked better.
Golden, Adore You, She and Sunflower, Vol. 6 prove themselves to be the best songs on this record, with the rest being either still great tunes but without the edge, or just mediocre numbers that any other artist could have produced. Could it have been the LA producing spoiling some of these songs? There is potential in some, but ultimately I think Fine Line is a fine album with some golden nuggets dotted here and there.