Harry Styles is the ex you wish you had. He’s so dreamy, it hurts. There’s a charming quality about him that can only be derived from his days as a boy band teen heartthrob. He’s polite but funny. Dashing while never being intimidating. He can have anyone, but he wants you. He’s way too into The Beatles. He doesn’t admit that he’s truly sorry. He’ll make you his muse whether you like it or not. He calls you a good girl. He’ll never call you mine, but he doesn’t want you to call anyone else baby.
While his self-titled debut solo album was hallmarked by throwbacks to the British rock he grew up listening to, Fine Line (2019) enters uncharted territory for Styles. Songs like “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You” show his glittery revolving sense of pop-rock and undeniable charm, while tracks like “Cherry” and “Canyon Moon” evoke a vulnerable acoustic side of the heartthrob, showcasing his song-writing abilities capable of taking you to a specific personal moment, a loss of love, or a homecoming.
“Sunflower Volume 6,” a highlight of the album, is possibly his most experimental track of his career so far. The nearly four-minute-long track features a nonsensical outro, harmonies reminiscent of The Association, and lyrics capable of making the most jaded person swoon. Styles sings, “I don’t want to make you feel bad but I’ve been trying hard not to talk to you,” and “Let me inside, wish I could get to know you.”
“Falling” is Styles at his most vulnerable. The piano-based track includes admissions of fear that “What if I’m someone you won’t talk about?” and “I get the feeling that you’ll never need me again.” He has moments of self-awareness, singing “And I’m well aware I write too many songs about you.” This self-reflection is a departure from the usual perspective of his music and comes across as if he was making a genuine confession towards you.
Styles’ intentions, no matter how pure, can get lost in the shiny retro packaging. “Treat People With Kindness,” a phrase adopted by Styles to promote positivity, is cursed by its chorus, as it focuses on a slightly out of tune choir practically going off beat. His Mick Jagger impression, while entertaining at first, loses its lustre. Much of Styles’ music is the result of digested McCartney, Mayer, Martin, and other male soft-rock stars. Most of the time, his obvious inspirations work, like in “Canyon Moon” as he does his best to channel Paul Simon, but “Treat People With Kindness” misses the mark.
The album ends with the eponymous track “Fine Line.” A sprawling song over six minutes long, Styles struggles with the uncertainty of his relationship, before submitting to the unknown. Styles exists on the fine line between sexual prowess and vulnerable admission, singing “You’ve got my devotion, but man I can hate you sometimes” and “Spreading you open, is the only way of knowing you” in the two verses. The simple acoustic structure of the song melts away as the song breaks down completely, with trumpets and drums overtaking the acoustic strumming. Styles’ voice echoes through the last minute of the album, as he sings the final lyrics of the album: “We’ll be alright.” Whatever you may have had with him, at least it ended on a good note.