It’s been two years since Harry Styles’ eponymous debut album, and the former One Direction singer has attempted to pull out all the stops on latest solo effort, Fine Line. Whilst Styles is clearly ambitious, the classic that he intends to pen in what is sure to be a lengthy career hasn’t materialised with his latest effort.
The intent is clearly there; Styles has made an album that proceeds through a myriad of genres – ‘Believe’ era Mumford and Sons on opening track ‘Golden’, all out pop on ‘Lights Up’ and a mild foray into folk on ‘Cherry’. On their own, all these tracks are perfectly nice to sit and tap your toes to, but the ambition held by Styles isn’t fully realised here, and whenever the album comes close to sounding experimental or even risky, it falls back in itself before any spark can be ignited.
There are plenty of genuinely big moments – the diet-Pink Floyd of ‘She’, for example, threatens to unseat the listener for a moment, but the experimentation seems to be repeatedly superseded by the kind of playing it safe that normally stems from writing with an army of songwriters (the least for a track on the album is two, on ‘Falling’). Where the interesting moments do come is during the quieter songs with less deliberate attempts to sound big. The highlight of this is the aforementioned ‘Cherry’ which, despite it’s questionable lyricism (‘I just miss your accent and your friends/Did you know I still talk to them?’) seems to represent Styles at his most comfortable. The quasi-Vampire Weekend sound of Sunflower, Vol 6. Is another stand out track, with a similarly folky vibe and some genuinely witty and punchy lyrics.
Whilst these folky sections of the album are the strongest, they can’t exist without the more Mumford / Coldplay stadium pop moments – and that is where the quality in this record is really lacking. By the end of third track ‘Adore You’, the rhythm section has become so repetitive that you can’t help but wonder why three tracks with identical drum patterns have been shoved together at the start of the album. What’s more, by the time the slower and more folky section of the album is over, you crave a little pace, leaving an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.
These two contrasting styles underpin the album, but they seem to be consistently working against each other.
Overall, Fine Line is better at being heart-warming and sincere that it is brash, bold and experimental, and that leaves a perpetual feeling of mediocrity when you consider that, in an ideal world, Styles would’ve have liked to pair those qualities to create a post-pop masterpiece. In actual fact, there’s still a long way to go until that masterpiece arrives.