A review of Harry Styles' second studio album
The former One Direction member - perhaps the most commercially successful thus far - creates an interesting album in Fine Line that I sort of feel like has a throwback kind of element. Led by singles, "Watermelon Sugar" and "Lights Up", half of this album hit the radio airwaves hard and fast. The powerful, yet calming nature in which Styles' sings creates a deeply personal experience that feels like a Hallmark movie in the summer.
Beginning with "Golden", Harry describes the radiation of a romantic partner as their presence is golden and godlike, similar to the sun. To further hint at a godlike presence, Styles' sees this person almost as a crutch and clings to the idea of a perfect relationship. He feels as if their love is the "antidote" - the end all, be all of the coming consequences.
The summertime vibe, largely, comes from the next song, "Watermelon Sugar". This song is deeply sexual at its core, but due to the high energy nature of the song, many innocently believed that this song was about actual watermelons and other berries. Regardless, this song exhibits the intoxicating nature of the "sugar" of a lover. With ties to a former romantic partner, fans quickly found a connection in the specific use of "watermelon sugar". According to Genius, this is a nod to an ex whose favorite book was "In Watermelon Sugar" by Richard Brautigan. In an NPR Tiny Desk concert in 2020, Styles elaborated on the meaning of this song:
"We started some ideas and then I was with the guys that I made the first album with and we had this idea, this chorus melody, it was pretty repetitive. The Richard Brautigan book “In Watermelon Sugar” was on the table, and I was like ‘That’ll sound cool!’"
This is followed with "Adore You", a similar rendition of the aforementioned themes of love and the intoxicating nature of it. While this song it pretty repetitive, it can be an addicting listen due to the astounding vocals provided by Styles and Amy Allen. The love the artist feels is so powerful, that he is willing to torture and harm himself in adoration for his lover.
The excellent four song run to open the album is closed out by my personal favorite, “Lights Out”. This song takes a break from love and goes into a little introspection. This song may hint at Styles’ sexual orientation and the effects this may have mentally and on his image in the world. However unlikely, he wishes things would stay the same despite some set of people shining light on whatever he has to offer. Even with them shining this said light, it doesn’t illuminate the darkness inside him and, perhaps, even initiates shame in the artist. Those shining the light assume they know who you are, even though sometimes you don’t know who you are. Unfortunately, stepping into the “light” permanently forfeits any discretion as a celebrity.
While the rest of the album isn’t bad per-say, it definitely doesn’t have the radio hit factor that the first four songs do. As a result, only some of the remaining songs will be covered below.
“Falling” is the next notable song. This song is in staunch opposition to the beginning of the album. It is almost depressing at this point. The artist is plagued with insecurities and pained by the collapse of a relationship. Again, dependency is a huge theme here as Harry questions the validity of his identity without his lover. He feels he is spiraling mentally and physically falling as they drift further apart.
Next is “She”. This is one of the main songs that evoke a vintage status. Riddled with the use of guitar — including a solo at the end of the song — and the slow burn of the lyrics creates a 6 minute long Red Chili Pepper-esque song that will likely age perfectly. This song follows a story line beginning with a man dropping his kids off at school and sending his assistant to get coffee. Here, it is unclear what exactly transpires. We are introduced to “She”. She lives in the mans daydreams and his mind, however, we aren’t told who, what, or why. Now this could be a physical person that the man longs after; however, the man doesn’t know who she is either. Keeping the theme of sexuality in mind, this could be a man who sees a feministic version of himself. This is most strongly supported by the following verse:
“Lives for the memory
A woman who’s just in his head (Just in his head)
And she sleeps in his bed (His Bed)
While he plays pretend (Pretend)
So pretend (Pretend)”
This may seem like a bombshell but Harry Styles isn’t necessarily afraid to showcase femininity. Just look at the album cover: surrounded by pink, a cute blouse and bell bottom pants with what are probably heels on his feet. The guitar solo leaves us to ponder on the true meaning of the song as the bombshell verse marinates in our mind. Truly an underrated song on this album.
Lastly, is the album-titled song “Fine Line”. This song is what the rest of the album was building up to. A tragic, yet beautiful uplifting to the end of an esteemed relationship. They are the “fine line”, the standard or the true middle ground between good and bad relationships. They have been on both sides of this line however, the totality of the relationship is both physically and mentally neutral. While they may not be meant to be, they can still be. Meaning exist cohesively and separately. This line they dance is eternal so why not tight rope it?
Where this album lack is star power and critical acclaim, it thrives in songwriting and powerful vocals. Fine Line took us on a tour through the empowerment of love and the tumultuous downfall of heartbreak along with the confusion of expressing sexuality. This album is well on it’s way to becoming a bona fide classic.