How serious is this post? The world may never know.
Released in 2017, Styles’ eponymous solo debut outing is two-thirds of an hour of modern BritPop that hits all the right notes. Here’s what I thought of each song:
At its best moments evoking a pared-down Radiohead, this tune is an outright rebellion against the overblown pop sounds of One Direction. Swanky guitars and Harry’s hauntingly echoic voice (recorded in a hallway perhaps) are necessarily a statement. As much a statement as your first steps away from home were in your own growing-up process. Maybe he’ll work it out?
A better musicologist would know who he plans on meeting, but even someone as stunted as I in that regard can piece together the proper emotive effect: this is an aching loneliness, a pining properly presented, perched precariously ’pon previous pop pieces. Perfection.
Where Meet Me breaks you down, Sign of lifts you up. Adrift on the zeitgeist, or perhaps caught up in the final moments of some great adventure (maybe even the greatest adventure of all?), this song pairs perfectly with a hand-in-hand running into the sunset. When “the bullets” become “your bullets” the lyrics reveal themselves as hymnal, verging on poetic, yet avoiding the trappings of common poetry’s strictures.
Rhythmically and sonically Beatlesian, how could anyone turn this feeling down? Scream and Shout references, oblique and otherwise, abound. Harry feels so good; does he feel so fine? I have no doubt. Although higher in repetition than the start to the album, this jam is no filler, and pushes forward the guitar-based presence that Styles seems intent on achieving.
Delving deep into the philosophically-oriented questions of personal identity over time, Two Ghosts has the strongest sense of place. Ironic, perhaps, since its titular characters lack corporeal embodiment. The particular lyric “two ghosts swimming in a glass half empty” strikes me as a work of especial lyrical prodigiousness. Smallness, pessimism, feeling invisible or untouchable. The swelling of these feelings, possibly oppressive, has plenty of space to work with in this slower piece, and work with that space it does.
Creature is a strange word, in my experience. It’s…overgeneral? It includes too much possibility, surely this is overgeneralization, the bane of all good abstractions? But here the portent of “creature” is apt.
Once you realize this “creature” is not limited to the bounds of humanity, or even to those of the living, the words fall into place. How much of what is good in the world has the potential to bring us home? Stubbornly presenting that word…“creature”…over and over. The effect is eventually less unsettled and leads direct to the comforts of home.
Reveling in an extended intro, this song is about an ethereal environment…until it very suddenly isn’t. It becomes an ode to the rock ballads of the 70s in the space of a bar. Lyrically darker, and sonically more uplifting, the contrasts here will not be lost on the listener. “Wanna die, wanna die, wanna die tonight” is a cry for annihilation, an anguished yearning for soteriological release. Similar to a great blues song, you’ll feel good and bad all at the same time: uplifted if you don’t listen too closely to what’s actually being said, and utterly downtrodden if you do.
At this point, Harry has reached the high point for fever pitchiness of the album. The best way to understand this song is indeed “hard liquor mixed with a bit of intellect”. Kiwi also contains my favorite rhymes of the album. “jacked up / backed up” and “cactus / actress” especially speak volumes more than nonparallel framings ever could. Again we see themes of love and harmful contrast. How could having a child not affect those involved? None of your business, I suppose.
Kiwi alludes to the jacked-up-itude of New York, but here it’s made explicit. Prayer, the power of words, curses, and general communication (communion, if you roll that way) are major themes. Styles seeks what he does not yet know, and that lack of communication is eating at him. What if New York had gone differently? We probably wouldn’t have the 1-2-3-bass of ESNY, and that’s nearly as big a shame. Sing for us, something we haven’t already heard.
With a strange, duck-like exclamation punctuating the lines here, this song is as new as it is old. Netflix references and ancient beasts collide here, as Harry expounds on the contradictions of modernity and tries his best to patch up his little piece of it. Guitars filling in wordless spaces continue to show the new style being sought here.
While I may disagree that comfortable silence is overrated, especially seeing as the quieter moments here are among my favorite, this is a nice gentle runway approach for the album. Touchdown is an analogy of technological mishap conflated with romantic, a running theme. It’s as though everything that should have been said has been spoke.
The album Fine Line comes to us from the last weeks of 2019, with slightly more material, slightly more development of themes, and artistry pushed slightly beyond that of Harry Styles. It’s somewhat more joyful; in some sense only a true artist can evoke joy as artiness itself is all too often found in the depressed, repressed, and even opressed. A new breath of air.
Soft cymbals pull us into a newly-constructed world, refined but not obsessed over. Sunlight streams through an open window, linen curtains flailing gently in the breeze. The fight against loneliness continues, a gilt individual ordained by the heavens ready to whisk you out of present circumstance and into a courageous new world. Nearly the only letdown is in the last couplet—but does not every yin require its yang?
Replete with references to delectable fruits—strawberries, the titular melon, berries in general—sweet acidity is the name of the game here. Summer evenings and summer feelings hit hard. Who in their right mind could dislike a sweet, cold, juicy fruit on a midsummer evening? Fruit is universally appreciated, and for good reason. “I don’t know if I could ever go without”…fruit, that is. A tasty snack, to be sure, just like this song.
Again with the fruits, strawberry lipstick, lemon, and generally sweet items like honey. This saccharine exchange exhausts the listener with its thoroughness, ringing both tropical and true. It’s a straightforward and confident expression of adoration, hiding nothing, and especially not hiding behind its title as so much clickbait strewn throughout lesser-known internet locales. This is as straight-shooting as they come.
This is the first song on Fine Line that harks back to Harry’s original album. It’s more reserved, has more happening underneath, and returns to the common metaphor of lights and darkness, the contrast between two parts, each making no sense without the other. This song shines through as a bright example of Styles’ ability to throw a changeup, and clearly the batter seems to be striking out.
Again with the fruit! However, this tune is a trough, more befitting the cherry. It is a darker flavor, after all. Sometimes pitch black. By turns, this song approaches resentment, remembrance, and reminiscence. Camille Rowe’s voicemail en français would add pretentiousness were it not so heartbreaking. Punchy drums add a gutting feeling to the effect here, before the ending slows down to an aching halt.
Plaintive and processional, this take on the fall from grace softly attacks various targets. Perhaps most importantly, it takes on itself, with the line “I’m well aware I write too many songs about you”. It’s hard to avoid such a fate when tied up in the tangled web of emotions. Falling here is a graceful act (from the outside), perhaps a circus performer twirling down an impossibly long length of fabric before alighting in the dead center of ring number two.
Here’s your pick-me-up after album act 2. Harry first asks us not to blame him for falling, and after the last song this is all too easy to do. Tremulous sounds and tricksy lyrics again dance around the concept of loneliness, somehow finding yet another angle of approach to the subject. Rejecting a past that caught up with him, he’s completed the process of falling and is now dealing with it, perhaps wallowing a bit much, but who can assign blame for that.
With an intro sounding closer to Floyd than anything else here, Styles has appropriately situated the listener in Time, but not necessarily in space (and certainly doesn’t deal with Money). The obvious single-word motif bounces along, carrying us through daydreams, sleep, pretend, and beyond. We don’t know who She is (or do we?), and Harry doesn’t know where She is anymore, at least with respect to him.
Catchy! Pickups abound, coming out of the shade, enjoying another’s mouth full of toothpaste before really getting to know that person. One wonders who one’s sunflower may be…or is it incredibly obvious? The seeds are planted right there, in the melody. The listener is encouraged via desires to know their own sunflower better, to discover that foolish tongue-tied feeling of freshly pollinated relation.
Now the positivity momentum is fully built up, and it’s up to some well-placed colorful lyrics to color in a space in the mind of the partaker. We all know how long two weeks can be, how simple canyon moonlight can outweigh the delights of Paris, Rome, and so forth. New music, when “she plays songs I’ve never heard” strikes me as fitting now, listening to my own new music. Again, themes of homewardness are drawn out and allowed to express themselves.
Churchy and aspirational, gospelic (or gospelish, to say the least) tones will hit those who keep on dancing hardest. Maybe there’s a place in these lyrics to find a place to feel good? Themes of automaticity and ephemerality provide a delicious bite to otherwise directedly cheerful lyrics.
As witnessed by his first excursion, Harry Styles is no stranger to tasteful eponymy. An econometric twist on emotionality, the swirling of love and hate, the balance of things across the thinnest possible line, all play roles here. The crispest lyrics of the album (literally) are to be found here, along with the most intensely repeated theme. The final words of the album at long last give up seeking validation, rather assuring it to others.