Photo courtesy of Columbia Records
The finest of lines
Harry Styles breaks the barrier of musical ingeniousness in his second solo album
From boy band superstar to a hit solo act, Harry Styles has shown the world his range in his second album “Fine Line” released December 13th following his self-titled debut in 2017. To no surprise, Styles has stood the test of time and remained a household name with a fan base growing exponentially by the day. Not only is he making a new name for himself, but he has gained a new appreciation in the past few years from notable artists like Stevie Nicks and Ed Sheeran.
This new album follows a vulnerable story through Styles’ recent love life with French-American model Camille Rowe while keeping a variety of emotions flowing throughout. Although numerous songs were debating being included on the album, only 12 made the cut.
“Golden” kicks off the dozen. Having been a sneak peak in tour promotions, this song was an unexpected start. Styles’ debut album had a cohesive folk feel while snippets of “Golden” mixed his selection up with a Fleetwood Mac reminiscent beat. His background vocals have a live, indescribable motion that carries the song like a summer drive in Malibu and make you want to dance silly flailing your arms.
“Adore You.” I adore “Adore You,” the third track on the album and final single released before the final album drop. I somehow had low expectations for some of the music to come after the singles “Lights Up” and “Watermelon Sugar” because nothing could have reached their caliber. I was wrong. This song is undeniably one of my top tracks because of the constant power of the melody. The song makes anyone and everyone want to dance. From the first few seconds my body is moving and I get my daily dose of serotonin. Similar to “Golden,” “Adore You” had a promotional soundbite for the music video only increasing the anticipation for the release. The nine second sound clip was what I lived on for a week because I knew it would supercede my standards of what I thought was possible in music.
The first released single from the album, “Lights Up,” was the unexpected return of Harry Styles from his long bout of silence. Experiencing this song during the first moments of release with thousands upon thousands of other anxious listeners was beyond words. “Lights Up” is incredibly different than Styles’ self-titled album. To everyone listening, Styles was expected to be a folk artist after the end to his pop journey with One Direction, but he surprised the masses, including me, and released a banger. This song played on repeat for me from day one. It sounds so different than any other music to me; it has so many layers. The verses sound like a Styles twist on pop, but the transition to the chorus and bridge carry an entirely different vibe. Not to mention, the “la la la la la”s make my jaw drop every single time.
Track 5 is “Cherry.” Before the album release, Harry Styles had talked about there being a recording of one of his ex-girlfriend’s voicemails in one of the songs. All in French, the voicemails make the beginning and ending. “Cherry” is one of the slower tracks and pulls from a more vulnerable and soft side of Styles where he proves to be jealous and still healing from the relationship he once had. Unlike the previous tracks, there is an acoustic beat throughout that I believe is meant to symbolize the authenticity he is sharing with the world. The song ends with 40 seconds of what sounds like a completely different song but is revealed to be the few voicemails that meant something to the artist. I loved hearing this side of the artist because he is such a well-rounded and intimidating person that was never known for being so open about his life like this before.
“To Be So Lonely” is an interesting switch from the previous track. The first line “Don’t blame me for falling,” alluding to the preceding slow number “Falling”cements Styles knack for little details as well as a line from his favorite movie The Notebook, something only his followers would pick up on. “To Be So Lonely” is a repeat song for me that is so unlike my usual music taste, but it’s the weird connection between the rhythm and lyrics that fit perfectly together that brings me back. I think if I listened to it without words, I would still understand the overall mood he encapsulated– isolation. The track makes me believe that through his breakup, it was written in the anger and bargaining stage of grief shown through his tone and the way he uses inflection in his voice to criticize his past behavior.
Another slow song, “She” welcomes a new theme and more attention to detail. Without much thought, it would be assumed that the lyrics have to do with a woman and his fascination with whoever “She” is. However, it has come out that it is about Styles and other men repressing their feminine sides because of what society considers the norm. Throughout his career, Harry Styles has been THE curly-haired boy that every teenage girl had a crush on and for years and was considered by everyone to be a heartbreaker. After the hiatus of One Direction, Styles broke from that social construct of himself and began to express himself in clothing, accessories and music to redefine who he is and how no one should make him feel the way he does in “She.” Upon release, fans immediately recognized the recurring instrumental from songs on his self titled album such as “Meet Me in the Hallway” and “Two Ghosts” with a less acoustic, more synthetic arrangement to distinguish from the other two. The electric guitar bridge solo alone makes this one of my favorites from the album.
“Sunflower, Vol. 6” was the first song I listened to from the complete album that was not a single. Staring at the ceiling, full blast in my headphones, this song blew my mind. The fade in was the perfect way to begin my musical journey. Definitely one of the more pure, less vulnerable songs, “Sunflower, Vol. 6” proves the wide variety and experimental ways of the album. Styles’ voice sounds angelic during the harmonies and there’s an interesting synth beep boop noise behind the chorus that intrigues me as the instrumentals build on each other as the song progresses. The ending of random noises is either a hit or miss for listeners, but I love it for the playful and unrestricted fun he is having while making the song; it shows that he truly cares about making music and what he wants rather than for a specific audience.
“Treat People With Kindness”, track 11, is one of my all time favorites from the entirety of the 12 numbers. Although a musical juxtaposition, “Treat People With Kindness”(TPWK) and “She” go hand in hand with their themes. “She” is about growing up to be uncomfortable with who you really are and TPWK is about accepting who you are and being happy. Styles perfectly summarizes that with the lines “Feeling good in my skin, I just keep on dancing.” The song title was no surprise when revealed as it is the well known Harry Styles mantra displayed everywhere from his merchandise to social media. Everything about this track is the most unembellished form of what it means to be joyful. I will forever live by this song and play it until I can no longer hear.
The final song from the album “Fine Line” gives the best ending to any album I’ve ever heard. Styles uses the repetition of “We’ll be a fine line” and “We’ll be alright” to elicit the concentrated emotion of being content and in understanding with life. Throughout the album, he shows a range of emotion anywhere from the most pure form of happiness to some of the lowest parts in his life– the “Fine Line” of what it means to be alive. Styles has said himself that if he had to listen to one song from the album for the rest of his life, it would be this track because of the power and progress that it has made. The perfect ending to a live performance and album, not much needs to be said to get the point across. After listening to the entire album from start to finish, the strumming of the guitar and soft piano keys makes the listener want to bawl their eyes out.
I truly believe the name “Harry Styles” holds indescribable power in today’s culture only barely touching the surface of the impact Styles has made. There is no song on this album that I would even consider skipping when shuffled on a playlist. Before the album was released in the last weeks of the 2019 calendar year, it had already placed in top albums of the year lists from notorious music platforms such as Billboard and the Rolling Stones magazine. A possible deluxe album may be expected in the coming future as it is known that at least four more songs were considered for an appearance but may also be saved for the tour setlist only. Styles’ voice is so raw and beautiful it is hard to grasp and I will cherish his music forever.
The fine line is that this is the best album to exist.