Harry Styles: Fine Line review – A journey of sex, sadness and self-discovery
Columbia - Erskine
Writing about Harry Styles is like writing about a crush who knows how to work whatever room he’s in. Crooning sex positive songs with all the power of a post-hallucinogens awakening on his second solo album, he’s ready to tell us that he doesn’t see people, he just sees love, man. So convincing is he in his partly trippy, mostly soft-rock quest that you’d almost trade in your life to experience a minute of his.
With pursed lips, understanding eyes and those gentle curls framing his face, the 25-year-old sings “I understand that you’re scared because I’m so open” with some serious Gap Year Energy on opening track Golden. Our former One Direction wunderkind is on a journey, friends. He doesn’t want to be restricted by relationship titles but, as songs like Sunflower, Vol. 6 indicate, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone along the way: “I don’t want to make you feel bad but I’m trying not to act the fool”.
Lights Up, the album’s lead single, sees Styles extend his hand through dreamy synths, strings and chorus of gospel choir to invite you into his bubble. It’s nice in that bubble – bit warm maybe – but for all the highs of the truly blissful Adore You and the seductive Watermelon Sugar, we dive deep into the lows that follow them. On the Lennon-McCartney frilled Cherry, he takes note of his own jealous tendencies. “Don’t call him what you used to call me,” he asks, and in an interesting indication to just how rich his friends are, he digs deeper with “Does he take you walking around his parents’ gallery?” Likewise, To Be So Lonely moves like a rattlesnake; slow and hypnotising until Styles snaps that he’s “just an arrogant son of a b***h who can’t admit when he’s sorry”.
On the big, sad, piano ballad Falling, he takes the blame for broken relationships – “I’m in my bed but there’s no one here . . . There’s nothing to blame but the drink and my wandering hands” – while acknowledging that his partner has every right to get vexed with him: “I’m aware that I write too many songs about you”. The six-minute long bluesy indulgence She illustrates the idealised girl who walks the earth breaking every taken man’s heart and while it’s the one true misfire on this album, it’s interesting to see the world that men like Styles inhabit and the privilege that they possess.
Drawing on the likes of Harry Nilsson for whimsy, Fleet Foxes for melodies, and, on the trippy, dippy love anthem Treat People With Kindness, the musical Hair for flare, this isn’t the album that the uninitiated would expect but for those already under the spell of this Worcestershire-raised, LA-based lad, this is the logical next step. However, it would have been far more thrilling if he allowed his music to follow his queer-leaning and androgynous sartorial choices because the alt-rock love-in doesn’t entirely match his message.
Even though we started on a high, the closing title track is in full reflective mode with Styles promising the lost object of his affections that he’ll “try to shake this soon”. Swinging the pendulum between sex and sadness, Styles is very much a reformed f**k boy (sorry) who’s working his way through the results of his actions. Selling us heartbreak with a Californian suntan, Styles walks that Fine Line of playing around and playing with hearts. Through his misdemeanours and sunrise revelations, he learns that a journey of self-discovery should never come at an emotional cost for others.