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Harry Styles ‘Fine Line’ surpasses the level of greatness seen with his debut. (Photo provided via @HSHQ on Twitter)

Album Review: Harry Styles leaves his mark as a contemporary soft rock legend with ‘Fine Line’

Harry Styles' sophomore album, Fine Line, unquestionably labels him as a soft rock icon whose innocent boy band identity is nowhere to be found. 

Following his critically-acclaimed debut album, Styles returns with songs about “having sex and feeling sad,” per Styles’ Rolling Stone interview. Much of his inspiration was derived from his breakup with model Camile Rowe. The heartbreak not only led him to question his identity and morals, but it allowed him to make an unapologetically candid album.

In the album’s opener, “Golden,” Styles admits to writing while experimenting with mushrooms. His carefree energy is channeled in “Golden” with subtle hints of heartbreak concealed by an upbeat tune. Although “Golden” is arguably outshone by other tracks on the album, it is fun, charismatic and could easily be used as a concert opener for future performances. 

The next three tracks are ones that Styles strategically released as singles prior to the entire album dropping. “Watermelon Sugar,” “Adore You” and “Lights Up” are three of the catchier tunes on the album. “Watermelon Sugar” delivers listeners with a provocative two-minute, fifty-four second song about oral sex, which Styles more or less admits to being true during his interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. However, the term “watermelon sugar” is ambiguous enough to remain a clean and classy song. 

“Adore You” is easily the most pop-like song out of the album’s 12. “Adore You” will be the track overplayed on the radio and in stores nationwide, but it’ll never get old because of its sheer magnetism.

The album’s first single, “Lights Up,” is essentially a vibe that carries diversity within the chorus and bridge. The chorus brings a dreamy, mellow tone that is eliminated, come time for the bridge. The bridge contains a powerful and purposeful gospel-like tone that brings chills to listeners. 

Following the first four upbeat tracks comes “Cherry” — undeniably one of the best songs on the album. The greatness found in “Cherry” comes from the personally detailed lyrics about Styles confessing his jealousy toward Rowe’s new relationship. Styles sings, “I just miss your accent and your friends / Did you know I still talk to them?” 

The honesty of verses like these are what encapsulates Styles’ true heartbreak. Aside from the lyrics, “Cherry” also bears a wistful and nostalgic tone that forces listeners to feel the pain behind Styles’ acceptance toward the outcome of his situation. 

“Falling” is easily the most mournful Styles song yet. The ballad brings brutal honesty from Styles, asking “What am I now? What am I now? / What if I’m someone I don’t want around?” 

Styles’ self-loathing is a result from taking accountability for assumedly cheating on Rowe, and the lyrics “And there’s no one to blame but the drink and my wandering hands” hint at his betrayal. Styles’ new outspokenness is what his superficial One Direction image lacked. The bluntness found in songs like “Falling” and “Cherry” is what makes for quality music. 

Another melancholic track about Styles’ breakup with Rowe is “To Be So Lonely.” With a simplistic beat against the strum of the guitalele, the compelling and dominant chorus is emphasized. The lyrics, although sad, are not accompanied by a sorrowful melody like “Falling.” Instead, “To Be So Lonely” is sung with outraged passion.  

The eighth track, “She,” sets itself apart from the rest with its sensual and provocative tone. “She” is whimsical and imaginative with Styles singing about the kind of woman he wants as a partner.

Despite “Sunflower, Vol. 6” being an overall adequate song, it doesn’t match the level of the other exceptional ones. The lyrics in “Sunflower” don’t contain much substance amid the reggae tune. However, it is nonetheless playful and a song that could be a hit at the beach or a party. 

As for “Canyon Moon,” the track is lively and lighthearted. “Canyon Moon” is another song that brings a nostalgic, road trip-type of feeling, and the track encapsulates an old folksy tune that ultimately makes it memorable. 

“Treat People With Kindness” is a track on the album that one could take or leave. The track has good intentions with a good message, but the song justly feels awkwardly placed and composed. “Treat People With Kindness” assumedly intends to be a breath of fresh air by discussing positivity against an ineffective gospel tone, but it more or less ends up being overwhelming and somewhat annoyingly boisterous. 

Lastly, the title track, “Fine Line,” is of quality because of Styles’ vocals. The song is prolonged and repetitive, yet the construction works when it is paired with the roughly six-minute melody and vocals that go from soft to loud throughout. 

With high expectations coming from both critics and fans, Styles’ Fine Line surpasses his self-titled debut by taking risks and showing off what he is capable of producing through a diverse selection of tracks. 

Rating: 4.5/5

@emmadollenmayer

ed569918@ohio.edu 

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