• emily marshman

ALBUM REVIEW: harry styles, "fine line"

it’s going to be difficult for me to find something to say about harry styles’s fine line that hasn’t already been said by someone much more concise and coherent and articulate than i am in the few days since its release. 


this album is more than just twelve tracks for me. on the eleventh of december, i took a red eye flight from ithaca, new york to los angeles, california. thursday the twelfth was a fight for our lives, but at nine o’clock local time, three of my friends and i were sat around the kitchen table at our airbnb listening to “golden” (my personal favorite track on the album). i’d heard snippets of the leaks online after trying desperately to avoid them, but sitting down to listen to the album for the first time still felt like coming into something brand new and exciting. 

two and a half years after the release of his self-titled debut, styles gave us fine line, a triumph of a record, a breathing, conscious entity that seems to have fed off of his misery until he was ready to put it to use. this album is much more mature than his first, the subject matter still essentially the same (harry isn’t one to write about much other than his own life experiences, which i respect him for) but displayed with more confidence than he ever had before. golden, the first track, builds with keys and cymbal for nearly ten seconds before harry introduces himself with a “hey!” and some “do do”ing. it’s so easy to see why harry fell in love with camille, the way he talks about her in some of these songs, but in this one especially. he was at a loss for words, resorting to fragments of speech to describe her. it’s an enormous, jubilant ode to love and to falling in love and to the light he ound in his lover and their particular love. my favorite line is “i don’t wanna be alone / i don’t wanna be alone / when it ends, don’t wanna let you know / that i don’t wanna be alone / but i can feel it take a hold / i can feel you take control / of who i am and all i’ve ever known / lovin’ you’s the antidote, golden.” harry knows his lover is becoming an enormous part of his identity (which is called back to in falling, when he says, “what am i now? what am i now? what if i’m someone i don’t want around?”). the breakdown at 2:20 is just…*chef’s kiss*. everything about this song is miraculous. to be among the first to hear it live was life-saving. golden eventually evolves into watermelon sugar, which i can only describe as unashamed, unabashed, open; it’s harry really leaning into and embracing his sexual nature. 


adore you is one of the most unique tracks on the album simply because of the entire world harry built around it. it’s hard to listen to it without thinking of eroda, of the music video, of the fish and the pub and the sailboat, and of the boy’s blinding smile. it’s pure funk, harry’s voice breaking through to beg his love to just let him adore her. lights up was the first track harry dropped after a year-long hiatus, when none of us really knew what to expect from his new work, but he gave us almost exactly what all of us needed from him: an anthem about the ways in which he’s come to embrace who he is and all that he’s learned since he went solo. the song culminates in the line “do you know who you are?” which can be viewed as both harry asking his audience and himself this question. his relationship is one of the reasons harry is questioning his identity, as evidence of his dependency on this other person can be found in watermelon sugar and adore you.


cherry is one of the most painful songs on the album. it’s harry’s public apology to his ex - “i, i confess / i can tell that you are at your best / i’m selfish so i’m hating it” - but also a plea to her not to forget him too quickly. it’s almost self-flagulating, as well, the way harry uses camille’s voice at the end of the song, the words fading and becoming obscured, almost as if they were recorded from under water. we never really realize the small ways in which the people we love become completely ingrained in our everyday lives (“i noticed that / there’s a piece of you in how i dress / take it as a compliment”) until they leave us, and often, when they do leave it’s sudden and we’re not given the proper amount of time to adjust, to grieve.

cherry is immediately followed by falling, which 100% claims the title as saddest song on fine line. all of harry’s fears after his breakup are perfectly normal fears, they’re all ones that everyone feels, but no one talks enough about them to know that they’re normal, and that’s what makes them even scarier. what if we never talk again? what if we never see each other? what if you don’t talk about me? he says, “and i get the feeling that you’ll never need me again,” and he’s right - she probably won’t. in an interview with zane lowe, harry said, “I had started to feel myself becoming someone I didn’t want to be, and that was really hard.” before he played this song live for the very first time at the forum, he whispered into the microphone for us to be gentle with him, as it was really hard for him to play. that’s all any of us want, really. for the world to be gentle, to be kind. harry is giving us a part of himself that he never has before, and he’s been so well-received it almost breaks my heart.


to be so lonely is fun, and it definitely stands out alongside treat people with kindnesssunflower, vol. 6, and canyon moon as the most upbeat songs on the tracklist. to try to describe she is to grasp at wind. i love the ways in which he plays with pronouns on this song; you never know exactly who he’s talking about, and it’s meant to be that way. he doesn’t even know who he’s talking about - he knows what his ideal lover is, but not who. and mitch’s three-minute solo at the end of the song is just so absolutely perfect. 


if you’d asked me when he first announced the album’s title what i thought he meant by the name fine line, i wouldn’t have known what to say. now that i’ve had an opportunity to listen to it a few times, i would say this: there is a fine line between love and dependency. i think harry used this album as a way to express his love and respect for his ex-girlfriend; to express the ways in which he relied on her - almost too heavily - during their relationship; and his trouble with feeling like himself once more after their breakup. the title track to the album is meant to highlight that theme; in that same zane lowe interview, harry says, “what i hadn’t really experienced before during the making of this record, the times when i felt good and happy were the happiest i’ve ever felt in my life. and the times when i felt sad were the lowest that i’ve ever felt in my life.” at the end of the song, when harry sings “we’ll be a fine line,” the instrumentals build and the lyrics eventually transition into “we’ll be alright,” and i love so deeply that he feels that way. 


all in all, fine line is one of the most perfect break up albums i’ve ever heard. knowing how heavily stevie nicks and fleetwood mac influence him, i’m not shocked that he’s created such a perfectly well-balanced meditation on love, dependency, and heartbreak. 

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