Sunday, April 21, 2024

Review: On “Fine Line,” Harry Styles Has Studied the 70s and Sung it Back to His Teen Fans: Stephen Stills Will Get a Good Laugh


Harry Styles is a nice kid, a cute kid, with acting chops, a mandate to be a pop star. I don’t think he cares about the latter. He didn’t seem to care in One Direction, where Niall Horan was clearly the musician. Harry was the Cute One, waiting to figure out what to do with his life.

It takes a village to make an album for him. So on his second solo effort, “Fine Line,” Harry and his pit crew have studied the best of the early 70s and sung it back to his teen — mostly girl– fans. It’s not a bad idea. The only people who might object are the ones whose ideas were “borrowed.” On this record that would be Stephen Stills, Paul McCartney, Crowded House, and a few others.

The fact that Harry is an amiable presence, a guest at his own tribute, makes “Fine Line” pass without any trouble. He’s already released three singles, the best of which– “Lights Up” — did the worst. “Watermelon Sugar” is catchy and short and totally meaningless. “Adore You” sounds like Crowded House, and things could be worse.

There’s a six minute track that’s like a Paul McCartney fest called “She.” I could only listen to the first couple of minutes because Paul would have cut it there and added two more two minute chapters to make one of his famous triptychs. he lets the band perform a very 70s-esque instrumental, too.

The new song I kind of liked best was “Treat People with Kindness.” This is written by Ilsey Juber, daughter of former Wings player Laurence Juber. It’s very mid 70s Paul, and not unwelcome. (Harry so reveres solo McCartney that he named the album and its title song for a recent Paul single.)

Stephen Stills: Harry and pals studied “Love the One You’re With” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” They came up with a backing vocal on “Golden” and a whole song– “Canyon Moon”– that’s a tribute to CSN circa 1969.

Styles’ crew consists of Jeff Bhasker, Thomas Tull, and Tyler Johnson. They are his group, his producers, his writers, his tailors. He’s their voice. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re like his own Wrecking Crew. He’s lucky to have them. I’m not unhappy they exist. Harry Styles is never going to be Elvis Costello. He has no ideas of his own. But he’s clever at arranging himself around these ideas. And it works.

This isn’t a put down. You root for him. At a time when there are few male solo acts, Styles’ career is important. Girls are going to scream. He’s not offensively ignorant like Justin Bieber, which also helps. He’s clever and charming. And that goes a long way.

PS The last song on the album is the title track. It was left off the digital press stream, so I’m just listening to it now. It’s over 6 minutes long. It’s got that faux McCartney-Crowded House sound. Harry’s team definitely went for a sound on this album that was dreamy and richly layered orchestrally, lots of bass and falsetto. Acoustic guitar floats over the top. The feel is Beatles as you wanted them to be. What’s interesting is that the lyrics to all of these songs are sexless. They want to be thought of as ‘general entertainment.’ Everyone’s included, no one gets hurt.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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