Columbia & Erskine Records · December 13, 2019
In the two years since his first solo album was released, Styles has intentionally altered his sound, stepping away from the classic rock influences of his debut toward a sound that delves into folk on his second album, Fine Line. He doesn’t, however, lose the pop undercurrents established in his first album. Nearly every song makes you want to dance and let loose with an upbeat hook perfect for entertaining any radio listener.
Fine Line feels drenched in sunshine, full of references to fruit and summer and sweetness. It was recorded in Southern California, and the influence of Styles’ surroundings is palpable throughout the album. He brings to life the idea of endless sunshine even while lamenting failed relationships. Lyrically, Styles evokes a previously untouched level of introspection with each song, singing about dependency on a partner and the subsequent jealousy and self-deprecation he feels.
“Golden,” the first track of the album, is light and fun, with a hook you almost can’t bear not to sing along to. Styles has said that it’s the perfect song to blast as you drive down the Pacific Coast Highway with all of the windows down. I agree. The only problem would be resisting the temptation to let go of the wheel and dance along.
“She,” a six-minute power track, feels closest to the style of his last record. It has the most rock influence, with bluesy guitar throughout that culminates in a lengthy guitar solo. Styles croons about the girl of his dreams, entirely created from his imagination. He can’t identify what quality makes her so desirable, but she’s always the first person he thinks of. This song does a great job of reminding us that Styles is a vocal powerhouse.
He takes inspiration from legendary SoCal-based acts Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks throughout the album, influences that are most noticeable in the folksy “Canyon Moon.” This feel-good tune features a dulcimer, the same Appalachian string instrument that Mitchell used to soundscape her 1971 album, Blue.
The album finishes out with “Fine Line,” the longest track, ringing in at over six minutes. The fragility of Styles’ voice is perfectly suited to what he’s singing about, finding the balance between the ups and downs of love. Musically, the song gets more powerful as it presses on. Styles’ voice finds its strength and a horn and drums round the record out, creating a robust symphonic sound.
Fine Line is a great record, in which Styles has successfully shown that he can toe the line between pop and other styles of rock. He certainly has the ability to create a musically diverse sound, all the while addressing more serious thoughts about love and its aftermath. He continues to impress his old fans, and I’m sure this album will secure him even more dedicated fans that will dance along with him on his upcoming tour. I can’t wait to see it.
Listen to Fine Line: