Review: Harry Styles rides a ‘Fine Line’ between teen pop and dad rock

The singer shows a level of maturity like no other on his sophomore album

Harry Styles Facebook | Photo Courtesy
Styles sold an eye-boggling 28,000 vinyl albums in the first week of release.

Harry Styles is back and better than ever with his first LP in nearly three years.

Ever since the boy band One Direction went on hiatus five years ago, Styles ran in the opposite direction to form an entirely new sound in the music industry. He traded in his mainstream pop sound to become a student of rock and roll, and it may have been one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

While Styles may have looked to Mick Jagger and cited him as an inspiration for his self-titled debut album in 2017, it’s extremely evident that he looked to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac this time around. He brings a certain groove and sound to the table that is challenging to create and pull off both successfully and critically.

When discussing the recording process for “Fine Line” with Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield, Styles had quite the creative process. “We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass and listen to Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram’ in the sunshine. The chocolate edibles were kept in the studio fridge, right next to the blender. You’d hear the blender going and think, ‘So we’re all having frozen margaritas at 10 a.m. this morning.”

If you’re looking for evidence of the previously mentioned psychedelic mushrooms, look no further than “Treat People With Kindness,” as he muses about “floating up and dreaming / Dropping into the deep end” over a gleeful gospel chorus.

Another distinct change in tone from the first album is the instruments in play. While his debut was primarily piano-based, ‘Fine Line” switches to a more guitar-based, acoustic sound in songs such as “To Be So Lonely” and closing song “Fine Line.”

Styles is reminiscent of a modern-day Paul McCartney throughout this project, bringing a certain touch of melancholy and joy to the listener’s ears simultaneously. His voice is filled with glee, sorrow and hope consistently and is one of the standout aspects of the album.

The only part of the album that feels as if it is held back is the lyrics. Styles was more focused on the feel and groove of the album and it seems to show at times. While some lyrics can bring a listener to tears in songs such as “Falling,” lyrics on other tracks only go skin deep (“Watermelon Sugar”).

The album received its title from the concept of Styles running two threads. On one thread, we have Harry Styles: Pop Star. On another, we have Harry Styles: Rock Star. Styles switches and combines these two sides of himself effortlessly and beautifully throughout the entire duration of the album to the listener’s satisfaction.

It’s a concept so magnificent and daring that only someone of Styles’ caliber can pull it off this successfully. Rather than dividing the album or cutting back and forth between the distinct sounds, he manages to weave them together, commanding all listeners their undivided attention.

Aside from the musical aspect and album itself, the records broken upon its release were no laughing matter. The set earned 478,000 equivalent album units in its first week. This marks the biggest week for a pop album by a male artist in over four years.

It’s also the largest sales week for a solo U.K. male artist since 1991. Finally, “Fine Line” was 2019’s sixth-largest selling album within its first week.

While Styles is much more confident and willing to go out of the norm this time around, he seems to trade in the deeper lyrics for large-stadium hooks and ballads.

That being said, he remains one of the biggest names in pop-rock music, with millions of fans clamoring to see what he’s going to do next.

Review: 4.5/5

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