REVIEW - Sex, heartbreak and confessions: Harry Styles just delivered one of the best albums of the year

Harry Styles (Photo: Harry Styles, Fine Line album cover)
Harry Styles (Photo: Harry Styles, Fine Line album cover)

Cape Town – Harry Styles' new album, Fine Line is my favourite album of the year.

Yes, I loved Taylor Swift's Lover, Maggie Rogers' Heard It in a Past Life and Clairo's Immunity but this sophomore offering is my number one.

It's a well-crafted piece of art about processing love, loss and sex in a way that most pop artists aren't doing right now. I would only compare its brazenness with that of Janelle Monae's 2018 album, Dirty Computer.

It's a definite step forward from his self-titled debut and singular in its brilliant delivery. It's filled with intertextual references to pop culture, literature and more; so that you are in a world that only becomes richer as you unpack it.

Yes, it would be easy to dismiss a single like Watermelon Sugar as just another song about oral sex (or a reference to his ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe's favourite book In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan). But I think it's more than that, it's fruity dive into obsession and desire in a record that also deals with the loss of that love so expertly on a song like Cherry. The same with the one-sided affection in Adore You or the infatuation in Golden.

In Cherry, the 25-year-old softly pleads: "Don't You Call Him Baby/Don't You Call Him What You Used to Call Me". In what amounts to a love letter to someone that has clearly moved on.

Followed closely by Falling which deals with losing who you thought you were as well as the person you loved because of your own mistakes. A relatable story of heartbreak wrapped up in a sonic bow so perfect in its progression and flow into the songs that follow it that it's hard to fault.

This melancholic four-minute navel-gaze, is about a person petrified that they're becoming someone they don't even like. The lyrics honestly ask: "What if I'm someone I don't want around?". 

From there and asking the objection of his affection to not call another man, "baby," Harry sings on To Be So Lonely: "Don't Call Me 'Baby' Again/It's Hard for Me To Go Home/To Be So Lonely."

In this way he ties the record together with a string of self-involvement that we can all get caught up in so easily. 

In the same song Harry endears himself to the listener by confessing: "I'm just an arrogant son of a bitch/Who can't admit when he's sorry."

It's that sort of vulnerability mixed with on-point production and a cohesive sound that makes Fine Line a standout album for me.

What I also enjoy about this record is that because it is so universally relatable, it is also so open to interpretation and further readings. Like any good piece of art, it's as much about the person experiencing it as the person who made it. Which is a brave move for a man who used to be in one of the most prominent pop groups in the world and who made music that was designed for radio to be digested like a sweet treat with no bitterness, for the most part. 

With Fine Line, Harry took his time to sit and explore himself and then left it open for the world to enjoy. It's free and candid, for sure, but it's not prescriptive. It's a dreamy collection of songs that I could see myself listening to years and years like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours record.

Treat People with Kindness is one of the more about upbeat songs on the record and sounds like a drug-filled fantasy world that, to be honest, I would love to live in. It's a dose of dopamine that this record might just need as it perfectly contrasts the last song, A Fine Line, which is one of the first songs the songwriter penned for the album and makes for a perfect conclusion that could also serve as a thesis statement. I like listening to everything in an endless loop and have been for a few hours. 

Will everyone agree with me (and Rolling Stone and a few others)? Maybe not. And that's ok, I am knee-deep in Harry's flowers and fruits and loving it.