Harry Styles – Fine Line – 2xLP
Harry Styles – Fine Line
“When I listen to the first album now, I can hear all of the places where I was playing it safe,” Harry Styles says. “I went into the second one feeling like, ‘I want to work out how to make all of this really fun.’” With his self-titled debut solo album—a collision of ’70s rock, swampy alt-country, and world-weary, introspective balladry—the British singer-songwriter transitioned from boy-band idol to bona fide rock star. The songs, all variations on an emotional theme, explored the peculiar reality of being young, vulnerable, and unfathomably famous—a lonely combination when you’re still figuring yourself out. In the two years since, Styles has made strides on this last front: He got his heart broken, holed up in Malibu and Japan, expanded his mind, wrote songs, and joined his generation in questioning whether constructs like gender and sexuality help us understand who we are.
Identity—more specifically, self-discovery—is at the core of his sophomore album Fine Line, as evident on the lead single “Lights Up” (“Know who you are/Do you know who you are?”) and “Falling” (“What am I now?/What if I’m someone I don’t want around?”). As in life, these explorations take many forms: There are whistling highway reveries (“Canyon Moon”), indie folk songs (“Sunflower, Vol. 6”), and even tortured pleas (“Do you think it’s easy being of the jealous kind?” he asks on “To Be So Lonely”). Unlike his last album, Fine Line practically explodes in color. High-pitched harmonies, buoyant string arrangements, and gently psychedelic melodies evoke an almost dreamlike abandon, and once in a while he goes for broke. The wide-eyed, philosophical elation of “Treat People With Kindness”—a flurry of retro guitar and gospel sparkle—peaks when Styles lets out a howl, drags his hand across the piano keys, and signals a conga break.
As a storyteller, Styles is full of hope and devoid of pretense: He wants you, he feels good in his skin, he’s going to dance, it’s going to be all right. “Coming into this record, I wanted to feel less guarded and more joyful, free and honest,” he says. To encourage creativity and brave songwriting, he waited until the songs were finished to determine whether he’d revealed too much (and then he added more, like dialogue from an ex on “Cherry”). “Really,” he says, “I never want to trim that stuff down.”
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