A nuanced return imbued with creative breadth...

It has been four years since One Direction gave their last performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on 31st December 2015 . Since that moment each band member has been keeping busy with individual projects and none more so than Harry Styles.

Fairly quickly, and confidently, he set out to pursue an indie flavoured route as per his eponymous debut from 2017, but this record is a more diverse kettle of fish, rich in nuance, genre, and overall inspiration.

‘Fine Line’ is a wonderfully bright, inspirational and ambitious piece of work, brimming with confidence and joy combined with some darker shades in-between. Stylistically, everything melds with pure pop sensibility to satisfy such a craving, while elements of soul, gospel and rock are sprinkled expertly across the album as a whole, giving a sense of constant change and freedom.

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Despite its upbeat tempo, album opener, the sweet pop number ‘Golden’ has vulnerability and some self-doubt, “I know you were way too bright for me. I’m hopeless, broken”, while ‘Watermelon Sugar’ projects a satisfying vibe with its summery, breezy sonics.

The mesmeric pop atmospherics transfer nicely to ‘Adore You’, but this time it comes with a soul element attached. Sounding lush, the basslines flow seamlessly and carry the track through to completion, while Styles delivers soft, fully projected vocals.

A possible ‘best album’ track contender, ‘Lights Up’ is more than just a worthy runner up. With its subtle, but acute build up, its charm is in the detail, be it the horns, congas or the neat choir arrangement.

“I noticed that there’s a piece of you in how I dress. Take it as a compliment.” Just as it looks as though things can’t get any better, they actually do. Quietly soothing and sweet sounding, the slide guitar on ‘Cherry’ adds a fascinating dream-like atmosphere and a close to folky feel.

Elsewhere on the record, a track such as ‘Falling’ holds much appeal. It’s a song where piano and Moog bass form a relaxed base for introspection and sincerity. Is this about the end of relationship? Quite possibly, there seems to be enough reason to say so with poetic lines like “And the coffee’s out at the Beachwood Café and it kills me cause I know we’ve run out of things we can say.”

Styles offers his own instrumental contribution when he plays a dulcimer as heard on ‘Canyon Moon’, a highly vibrant moment where slide guitar, keys and percussion create heart-warming and soothing audibles.

This album offers more than enough thought and feeling to become a contemporary classic. There is a ‘fine line’ between plain pop music and good pop music that’s interesting to listen to. On this album, Harry Styles definitely falls into the latter category.

8/10

Words: Susan Hansen

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