For the past two years, Harry Styles fans all over the world have been waiting to see what the post-boyband, indie pop artist would pull out of his shimmering sleeve next. After the wild success of his 2017 self-titled album, Styles was ready to switch things up with his newest creation, Fine Line.
Styles dropped a single every month after the album was officially announced in October, and the lead-up did nothing but send fans into a frenzy as the full release on Dec. 13 approached. Fine Line dropped on a Friday the 13th, but fans felt nothing but lucky.
A gentle dusting of sound starts Fine Line — light taps of a cymbal and galactic vibrations lead swiftly into a cry of Styles’ voice, opening “Golden.” Of all the songs on this record, there is not a more perfect track to start the listening experience. After his first album, Styles hinted at wanting to release a more psychedelic-influenced, pop-appealing compilation of songs. “Golden” embodies the Americana thunder and glittery charm that Styles has since adopted, filled with layer upon layer of harmonies and subtle acoustic chimes.
Even though this album dropped mid-December, many of the tracks on Fine Line resemble summer warmth and top-down car rides, bringing a dash of picnic-day heat to the winter. “Watermelon Sugar,” released as a single on Nov. 16, is a particularly sizzling lead-up to the full record. The track is peppered with brassy power and carnal metaphors — just another ride to remind listeners that Styles is no kid anymore.
Kiwi walked so Watermelon Sugar could run.
— Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) October 22, 2019
“Adore You” is one of the more simplistic tracks on the record, even if its music video was far from straightforward. The repeating choruses and long-winded bridge pander to Styles’ more pop-centered audience but nevertheless make for an easy-dancing song perfect for your lowkey night out. This can also be said for Styles’ first single, “Lights Up,” which initially announced the Brit’s return to releasing music.
“Lights Up” is an ode to Styles’ journey through fame — discovery, self-reflection and ultimate revelry define the artist’s personal growth since child stardom. Returning to this childlike essence, however, “Cherry” is the sweetheart of Fine Line. In “Cherry,” Styles reflects on his relationship with ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe, who is featured at the start of the song and in a voice recording at the end.
The emotional weight from the Rowe breakup is explored even further on “Falling,” an introspective look at Styles’ insecurities with lyrics like “What if I’m someone I don’t want around?” and “I get the feeling that you’ll never need me again.” A ballad-esque pause in the procession of summery anthems, “Falling” is a haunting moment that teeters the fine line between romantic and heartbreaking.
But as the next song says, don’t blame Styles for falling. “To Be So Lonely” is a direct response to the two preceding songs on Fine Line, referencing lyrics from “Cherry” and “Falling.” The lyrics “Don’t call me baby” on “To Be So Lonely” opposite the “Don’t you call him ‘baby’ ” on “Cherry,” expose Styles’ denial of fault in the relationship through the carefree tone and stubborn lyrics. This airy track is a standout on the record, shining as one of the more unprecedented songs in Styles’ repertoire for its stripped-down fashion.
Uncertainty runs rampant on “She” as Styles croons for his dream woman while simultaneously realizing that he doesn’t know who she is. The guitar solos by Mitch Rowland and Kid Harpoon go off in a mind-bending kaleidoscope that pays homage to ’70s rock and hippie poetry. But it’s not all gloomy, as “Sunflower, Vol. 6” provides the sweet romantic relief that the album craves at this point: reflecting on the positives in echoed harmonies, strained breaths and mischievous pitch changes.
The album is near-flawless, but songs such as “Canyon Moon” and “Treat People With Kindness” are the most forgettable tracks on the record. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either track, but “Canyon Moon” just doesn’t bring much to the table while “Treat People With Kindness” tries too hard to be different. Both tracks may have fit better on a different record — the contrast just isn’t right for Fine Line even if the narrative direction is.
Ending with the titular track, the sophomore album wraps up the highs and the lows with a soft tribute to the collective journey that inspired Styles’ record. In an epic closing, building with horns and commanding drums, Fine Line proves to be a prime example of Styles’ building maturity, creativity and exploration as an artist — and as a human being.