Two years since his solo debut, Harry Styles is back with his second album, Fine Line. Styles’ self-titled album in 2017 had to fight to establish an artist now separate from his previous boy band brand. Seemingly as a consequence of newfound artistic freedom, this album was good in part, but failed to be completely cohesive owing to a singer-songwriter at the centre of it who hadn’t quite found his new solo identity.
But with Fine Line, Styles now has a coherent and confident sound, carried all the way through by his sensitive and touching lyrics, most poignant in the tracks talking about break-ups. ‘Cherry’, with the lines “I, I just miss/ I just miss your accent and your friends,’ feels honest and palpable, whilst ‘Falling’ presents the singer as reflective and alone, heart-wrenching in the pain it explores. It is a song that doesn’t shy away from self-awareness, with the lyric, ‘you said you care, and you missed me too/ And I’m well aware I write too many songs about you’. This touches back to the album’s theme of missing somebody, the internality and mental strain of which Styles captures well with his words.
‘To Be So Lonely’ is wonderfully self-depreciating, with the confession ‘I’m just an arrogant son of a bitch/ Who can’t admit when he’s sorry’. It’s surprising to picture the affluent Harry Styles as lonely, desolate even, but when he sings ‘it’s hard for me to go home’, it’s all right there. Lines like this give the album a refreshingly human feeling, tactile in its emotional richness.
It’s not all doom and gloom either. ‘Watermelon Sugar’ speaks of that ‘summer feeling’, and delivers it, whilst the six-minute ‘She’ layers rich guitar instrumentals with seductive vocals, once again producing Styles’ characteristically sexy modern rock vibe.
‘Adore You’ is arguably the catchiest track of the album, pairing upbeat lyrics with a pulsing synth backdrop. Fine Line also showcases the experimental, with the chilled beats of ‘Sunflower, Vol. 6’, as well as range, featuring the Beach Boys-like sound of the cheerful ‘Canyon Moon’, and the buoyant anthem of ‘Treat People With Kindness’.
As any good album should, Fine Line manages to feel like it has an emotional narrative, with its sad middle tracks, upbeat conclusion and mellow outro. In this sense, it’s got it all: the songs to cry along to, and the tunes to pick you back up again afterwards.
I can’t claim that I have long been a Harry Styles devotee, but listening to this album, I now find myself moved by an artist that I’ve recognised but never truly appreciated. It feels somewhat cathartic that Styles, who has been on the music scene for so long as a cookie cutter boy band figure, has now emerged with a solid, well-crafted album, and it’s safe to say that I’m a fan.