Harry Styles ‘Fine Line’ – Review

27 Dec

Harry Styles appears to be on his own idiosyncratic trajectory, prompted by imagination, curiosity and a surprisingly deep knowledge of the cannon. If his debut ‘Harry Styles’ was a little too indebted to the classics to truly carve a mark, then ‘Fine Line’ finds a more satisfying way of forging its own path while slotting in to a familiar linage.

It begins with ‘Golden’, a springy, mid-tempo opener very much indebted to peak Fleetwood Mac. It sets the precedent. Mysterious sounds and expensive, psychedelic effects are used to invoke the 1960s without transporting you directly back in time. This is essentially a modern sounding pop album that uses the signifiers of the mid 20th Century.

‘Lights Up’ is an understated lead single that works effectively to bridge the gap between the bouncy opening numbers and the more somber middle stretch. It is though, decidedly, not your typical hit song. Neither are other singles ‘Watermelon Sugar’ or ‘Adore You’, though they try harder to be, by finding the middle ground between Tame Impala and Justin Timberlake. At these moments, when you suspect it really matters for the people upstairs at Columbia, Styles can’t help but reveal fundamental limitations in his songwriting ability. He is still a young man in the early stages of his career. His musical and lyrical capabilities are simple, his creative impulses, and particularly his melodic inclinations, are often rote or badly judged. 

 But at the centre of all that is good about ‘Fine Line’ is Styles himself, as charismatic and charming as ever, full of personality even when delivering lines that read as banal or trite on paper. Even in the album’s weaker moments he manages to salvage something memorable. Whatever he does here, he does with impeccable style and grace. ‘Fine Line’ is a relatively ambitious album where he has taken clear risks, exposed genuine vulnerabilities and avoided low hanging fruit. This moody album of moonlit soft-rock sends him down a more interesting path than you might have expected. Let’s see where it takes him.

7/10

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