Finally listening to Fine Line

By Gem Miller
I have never been impressed by Harry Styles. I was never a Directioner, and I thought his self-titled debut was classic rock music for people who have never heard classic rock before. But many of my friends and acquaintances are in love with him. What about him is so appealing? Is it his vocals? Is it his sound? Is it his looks? Fine Line, his most recent album, has been out for well over a year and I never listened to it completely. It has become one of the most beloved albums of the past few years. Is it worthy? I know I’m late to the game, but I have decided to give it a try and state my opinion of every single song.

“Golden”:

The album starts with your average rock-inspired pop song. This song is absolutely fine. It is a catchy little bop, but could absolutely have gone further in instrumentation and vocals. The music video is equally as inoffensive--just shots of well dressed Harry running around. Perhaps this video would be more appealing to me if I was attracted to Harry. There is little to praise, but little to criticize--pure mediocrity, but I’ll probably add it to my daily playlist anyway.

“Watermelon Sugar”:

Oh boy. Of all the songs on this record, I would have never guessed that this one would hit number one on the billboard charts. This song sounds like a demo, a relatively polished demo, but a demo nonetheless. Like “Golden,” I want more dynamic vocals and catchier instrumentals. It has potential to be an extremely danceable bop, but wasn’t taken nearly far enough. The bridge and ending of this song is half-baked and the lyrics are clumsy and embarrassing: “Strawberries on a summer evenin', Baby, you're the end of June, I want your belly, And that summer feelin', Getting washed away in you.” If the song was sonically more campy, the silly lyrics could be excused, but vocally this song is played completely straight. This song is the definition of wasted potential.

“Adore You”:

Well, the music video is great. Harry plays a boy from a fishing town who is so hot, sexy, and quirky that the only person he can relate to is a fish (not really, but also yes, really). This video is really campy and silly, but the song is completely out of place. The song is better than the other two. It's catchier and has a better hook, but Styles's tonal issues continue to this song and its video: it doesn’t know its identity or humor.

“Lights Up”:

“Lights Up” is the lead single from Fine Line and a vast improvement from the last few tracks. The verses, pre-chorus and chorus have different melodies, yet they blend together well. What is lacking is a bridge. A really compelling bridge would really tie this track together and add a bit to the short run-time as well. Harry’s vocals are a bit more daring, but I’m left begging for more. Though this song is worlds more interesting than the last three, the tracks continue to feel incomplete.

“Cherry”:

“Cherry” begins with a plucky guitar riff that is the child of the riff from “Going to California'' by Led Zeppelin and “Never Going Back Again” by Fleetwood Mac. It’s kind of infuriating (like I said earlier, Harry Styles is classic rock for people who have never listened to classic rock). Though Harry layers some folky vocals on this track, I would love a background singer to add a smoother tone to the vocals. Regardless, this song builds quite a bit. Electric guitar, strings, synths, and piano are all added throughout the track, but the Zeppelin-Mac plays throughout most of the track, which quickly becomes grating. The song ends with some woman whispering in French, which is kinda fun. As a whole, this track just sounds like many songs made before it. The lyrics and vocals just don’t make up for how derivative it is. Regardless, it is pretty listenable and inoffensive, but perhaps that’s what makes it all the more exhausting. This track is more interesting than most on the record, but once again I am begging for something campy and dramatic after the last few mild tracks.

“Falling”:

Hey I really like this one! Cue the airhorns. I’m a sucker for a ballad. His vocals and performance are entertaining and moving! Woo! The music video is pretty neat too. Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” music video is very similar to this one. The lyrics are pretty run-of-the-mill, but not as offensively boring as some of Styles’s other tracks. Stripping back this track would improve it significantly. Ballads always feel more genuine and hard-hitting when they are a bit rough around the edges, but this track is glossy and clean. Despite this, I will be belting this song in my car.

“To Be Lonely”:

The riff at the beginning is another example of Harry’s tendency to recycle classic rock tropes. But with pop formulas being used, it feels more like a lazy pop track than a sexy rock tune. Once again, I would love this song if it was less produced. The chorus is really polished and has an obnoxious wood-clap every few beats. The strings in the bridge are particularly over-the-top but not in a fun way. His vocals are sexier, but still sleepy. At this point in the album, I am getting more frustrated and exhausted than I was from the first three tracks. Really hated this one. There better be a good song next.

“She”:

Well, my prayers were answered! Though this song is very much serving 2014 Arctic Monkeys style rock, I don’t care. At this point, Harry can be as derivative as he wants as long as he keeps my attention. Harry’s vocals on the chorus kinda sounds like Patrick Stump for a hot minute with his high falsetto. This song is so sexy and so fun compared to everything else on this album. It’s most like his song “Woman” off his self-titled, but with a bit more drama. Even so, I STILL feel like there could be more. The guitar solo is quite dull; adding another guitar or a synth would improve it significantly. The bass on this song is truly infectious and is keeping me from skipping this track during the guitar solo. The ending would be vastly improved with a closing verse or with a repeat of the chorus. It was underwhelming towards the end. But HEY, I'LL TAKE IT!

“Sunflower, Vol. 6”:

YES! This is the best track on the album. I was worried at first since the melody on the verses are so similar to “Adore You”, “Golden” and “Watermelon Sugar”, but that PRE-CHORUS is wonderful! I am having fun with these Beatle-esque melodies and harmonies. Though Styles still can’t shake his influences off his sleeve, this track is the unique and fun song I have been asking for throughout this entire listen. And him beep-booping and doo doo-ing at the end is a silly and campy touch. All this to say, the song isn’t perfect. While the verses could absolutely use more pizazz, but it's a silly little ditty that makes me smile.

“Canyon Moon”:

Well girlies, we’re back. More rehashing of classic rock and folk rock but overproduced and watered down. I’m...so tired. At this point just listen to a Beatles song or a Fleet Foxes song or something else. This song sounds exactly like a million other songs I've heard before. The vocals are once again too glossy and clean for such a folky rock tune. Harry, at least give me some cheeky lyrics or something. Please, king, I'm starving.

“Treat People With Kindness”:

And now, here is the worst track on the album. Hate this. Just take all my criticisms from earlier but add corny lyrics, a humiliatingly lame message, and a god-awful choir singing the hook. The last third of this song builds to be more fun, but the percussion and background vocals are trying to be like Paul Simon so badly, but it just sounds like parody. At least this album is almost done.

“Fine Line”:

This track is fine. Not as deep of a ballad as the closing track “From the Dining Table” on self-titled, but not bad. This one is less boring than other tracks, but not as interesting as others. There is no reason this track should be six minutes, and the horns at the end are corny but not in a fun way, in an embarrassing way. This is a good song if you skip it after about three and a half minutes. At this point in the album, I have a hard time feeling any way about this song at all. I’m so exhausted with this record.

After all this, you may be wondering: Is Fine Line worse than his first album? Undoubtedly. On his self-titled, the track “Sign of the Times” was the lead single. Harry was transparent about the fact that the record would be dad-rock inspired. On Fine Line, “Light Up” was the single. And then every other track on the album did not match the style or creative nature of “Lights Up”. In addition, on self-titled, he had a persona. Harry put forth a sleazy, sexy, yet sad attitude that carried itself throughout the whole record. There is nothing cohesive thematically on Fine Line at all.
Well, what a journey this album was. What makes this album particularly frustrating is its potential. Styles clearly has a deep knowledge of music and skilled vocals, so why he chooses to make this record as boring as it is is beyond me. There is no personality, no dramatic or emotional breakthrough, there is nothing of substance besides a bunch of easy-to-listen-to tracks (some easier than others). To the Stylers out there, I’m sorry. But if it makes you feel better, I’m rooting for Harry.

Here is a playlist of songs similar to Fine Line and self-titled, but better. And it's collaborative, so feel free to add anything that comes to mind!