Fine Line is finally here

After two years of musical silence, Harry Styles is back with his second solo album Fine Line–but is it too good to be true?

After his 2017 self-titled debut album, Harry Styles proved his independence and ability to thrive as a solo artist, leaving his boy-band roots a thing of the past. We’ve grown to appreciate his soulful, piercing vocals and the soft, rock-and- roll whisper of his backing guitar tracks. However, with this new record, Styles sets a different precedent: whenever we expect him to zig, know that he’ll zag. From Watermelon Sugar to unexpected, folksy songs like Canyon Moon and Treat People With Kindness, Fine Line is a stretch of both creative and musical muscles that was not asked for, but not entirely unwelcome. But we have to think, did the humble intent of this 12-track album simply fall flat?

Styles first introduced this new concept to us in October 2019 with the single Lights Up, an upbeat, catchy song that did relatively well on the charts. He then gave us Watermelon Sugar, a welcome refresher after the production-centered core of its predecessor. Before the release of Fine Line on Dec. 13, Styles dropped yet another single: Adore You, along with an interesting seven-minute music video.

By the release, Fine Line was the talk of the music world, especially after his rock-and-roll tribute debut album that differed greatly from One Direction’s pop-like focal point. Styles, however, came back with a vibrant, flavor-drenched, confusing narrative of love, lust, heartbreak, sunflowers, and southern gospel folk ideas of Styles’ Treat People With Kindness campaign. At some points, Styles crafts a beautiful, symmetrical, lyrically dynamic record that’s pleasantly warm and surprising–at others, I wondered what his point was at all.

The first third of Fine Line is clean and well-crafted, conveying Styles’ assumed, sonic storyline. It tells the tale of Styles’ complex lust for a woman with very strong lipgloss and a Golden, Burberry kind of disinterest in his efforts. It’s a production and lyrical masterpiece, and the perfect medley to play at a party, wedding, or any event with a bar and a dance floor. Styles’ message was loud, clear, and effective: don’t take life too seriously.

By the second third of the album, it’s clear that whatever love Styles was chasing has crashed and burned, and it’s partly (or mostly, depending upon which lyrics you consult) his fault. Cherry, a bittersweet begging of an old love to save the things that were done with him for the past, leaves the listener wanting more; wanting a resolution to the love that left such a deep and permanent scar on Styles’ heart. Camille Rowe, an old flame of Styles, is even heard at the end of this ballad.

After that is Falling, arguably the most heart-wrenching song of this record, which is about a relapse into a fallen love that ‘will never need him again’ and becoming someone Styles doesn’t recognize, even hates. To Be So Lonely is Styles taking accountability and blaming himself, promising that he would change–almost like he’d do anything to go back to how it was, further proving that he hates the person he became.

She is more about this infamous love or loves, and how she’s wanted and lusted after by many, but will never be more than a daydream to him. There’s one word for this collection of songs: brilliant. It’s sonically cohesive and equally as passionate and delicate and should be envied by songwriters everywhere. 

 

Courtesy of Apple Music

The last half of the album, in contrast, feels a little broken. Stuck between incredible, star quality songs Sunflower, Vol. 6 and title-track Fine Line, are Canyon Moon and Treat People With Kindness. While independently Canyon Moon is not a bad song by a long stretch (in fact it’s upbeat and cohesive), why is such a country, folksy song placed here in the album? Is it not out of place in a story of lust, then heartbreak, then love? What is Styles trying to say exactly? It’s a ballad about coming home and the simple pleasures of everyday life, but in the midst of all the noise, why is it here?

Personally, Canyon Moon feels like a closing track, opened by Sunflower, Vol. 6. And Treat People With Kindness feels out of place completely. Styles’ wonderful TPWK merchandise line was a beautiful, peaceful notion that deserved a song of substance and impact–not of filler choruses and cheap lyrics. Perhaps Fine Line would have felt more complete with only eleven tracks. 

Harry Styles’ Fine Line is a tremulous, maddening, hopelessly romantic, dysfunctional journey that is the kind of musical excellence that gave Styles his reputation. While some songs (*cough cough* Treat People With Kindness) are wildly out of place and juvenile, others are down to earth and simple–a kind of personal seen rarely and in between a lot of chart battles, award expectations, and power moves–Fine Line is undoubtedly nothing short of artistic maturity and absolute expertise. Through blurry lines and pointless rifts, heartbreaking lyrics and melodies we all will dance to, Harry Styles has achieved in one album what many can’t do in an entire career: tell us who he is without saying a word at all. Well done.