“Fine Line”: Summer Skies & Empty Hands by Anushka Bidani

Image source: WallpaperCave

This fucking album. I honestly love it & hate it in equal measure at this point because it’s been NINE months since it first dropped & I’m still not over it. Listening to Fine Line feels like running down the same route every morning & yet, finding something new every single day in the twist of the road or the bend of the apple tree. & on the days when you’re too into your own head to really see the road, it serves as a stunning background score to all your thoughts, subtly nudging them towards a closure you might not have wanted but you sure as hell needed. Harry divided this album into (4) sides. Side A opens with “Golden”.

“Golden” finds H sounding all kinds of hopeful & earnest about the object of his adoration. This song serves as a fantastic entry-point into the album because: (1) It does not rely on any heavy metaphors to get its point across. With “Golden”, you hear H singing “I don’t wanna be alone” & “I know that you’re scared because hearts get broken” & “I know that you’re scared because I’m so open”. It is direct & it sets the tone for the rest of the album very clearly. & (2) “Golden” is soft. It’s neither very upbeat nor very sad; & what that does is change the way you are feeling without being too invasive. It creates a blank-canvas like emotional state where you unconsciously allow the album to fill you up. & with “Golden”, what you feel is gentle; almost like H is asking you to be gentle with him because he is opening his heart to you.

“Golden” is followed by “Watermelon Sugar” & it is playful & upbeat & happy. “Watermelon Sugar” articulates the motions & sensory experience of sex gorgeously; &, even more brilliantly, he manages it without ever saying how he really feels about it. With this song, H makes you realise how good he is at saying everything without saying nothing; & that realisation is even more jarring because it follows “Golden”. This song reads like the moment when you realise how easily you could fall for the II person & consequently, you try to close yourself off & take a step back. However, he switches gears with “Adore You”. In “Adore You” H retains the playfulness of “Watermelon Sugar” but also allows himself to fall. We are still under the summer sky, & H is singing “I’ll walk through fire for you / just let me adore you.” Consequently, it flows perfectly from “Watermelon Sugar”.

“Lights Up” is the last song on Side A, & I read this song as the effect of loss(/break-up). It sounds like the snapshot of an introspective moment H finds himself in; one which has been triggered because of that loss. On “Lights Up” he sings “what do you mean? / I’m sorry by the way” & “be so sweet if things just stayed the same”: here, we take a left turn down the road. He’s holding onto what he lost because when he allows himself to let go, he has to stop and ask himself, “Do you know who you are?”

Side B.

We first step onto this route with soft instrumentals holding our hand & guiding us into this open field. Here, H croons on “Cherry” “don’t you call him “baby”” & the instrumentals in the middle of the song leave you aching. On “Cherry” H sings “does he take you walking ’round his parents’ gallery?” & the plain emotion hits you hard. & all he needs to clinch your undoing is that voicemail at the end: after a song so sad & bruised, that happy voicemail which rings like giggles & church bells leaves you feeling like you just heard something holy, something which obviously meant so much to him & that loss has gutted him. & through his transition into “Falling”, he does the same to you. The raspiness in his voice when he sings “I’m in my bed / and you’re not here” leaves you feeling hollow.

“Falling” flows like a companion piece to “Lights Up”: it’s very introspective, & it tries to answer the question he asks himself in the latter — “Do you know who you are?” On “Falling”, H sings “what if I’m someone I don’t want around” & for the rest of the song, it sounds like he sticks with that answer. When H sings “And I get the feelin’ that you’ll never need me again” he sets the tone for the next song, “To Be So Lonely”. “To Be So Lonely” sounds like a drunk text, one that’s both angry & regretful in parts. H sings “don’t call me “baby” again” & you’re reminded of “Cherry” where he was so adamant that the II person won’t call “him” “baby”. With this song, he sounds like he’s accepting what he’s done (“And I’m just an arrogant son of a bitch / Who can’t admit when he’s sorry”) & trying to move on (“I just hope you see me / in a little better light”); but the repetition of “To Be So Lonely” sings a loud message, one which gets reinforced when the song doesn’t fade out but simply stops.

“She” begins with beautiful drumming. It reads like: (1) a genius articulation of the feeling of being a man & having to suppress a/the feminine side (“lives for the memory / a woman who’s just in his head”); & (2) an allusion to being frustrated with the strict masculine norms & ideals (“the man drops his kids off at school / and he’s thinking of you / like all of us do”). The lengthy instrumentals at the end read like a second song within “She”, one which provides the listener with a space to project their own feelings & contemplations. This quietly sets the tone for Side C.

On Side C, H is introspective but not as gutting as he is on Side B. “Sunflower, Vol. 6” is a Sad song, but one which feels more reflective than the ones he has sung before. It reads like a romanticisation of the II person & sounds like a goodbye. It flows perfectly into “Canyon Moon” where he reflectively sings “I keep thinking back to / a time under the canyon moon”. However, with “Canyon Moon” H begins to move on from the past & brings the present into focus. He notices “the world’s happy waiting / doors yellow, broken, blue” & “I heard Jenny saying / “Go get the kids from school””. Here, he introduces the ‘space’ “home” (“I’m going, oh, I’m going home”); a space which holds his emotional transition from the past into the present — we don’t know where “home” is, & I argue that here, neither does H.

(I don’t know why but “Treat People With Kindness” reminds me of The Beatles.) On “Treat People With Kindness” H sounds like he’s trying to recreate himself. The multiple high-pitched voices singing “maybe we can find a place to feel good / and we can treat people with kindness” reads like the voices in his head nudging him towards a new self. This song is also the first time we hear him singing “(and it’s just another day)….it’s okay“; & near the end when he screams “all together now!” it reads a lot like he’s come to the decision.

& then we have Side D. “Fine Line” guts you; there are no second opinions about that. The soft & very very slow rise of the instruments creates an atmosphere with so much depth that you have no choice but to sink. & then the guitar comes in, so achingly stunning that I start to cry. H sings “put a price on emotion / I’m looking for something to buy” & you start to realise why he chose this song to close the album. With “Fine Line” he comes full circle because it sounds so much like something someone would sing immediately after a break-up when you’re overwhelmingly sad but still so goddamn in love & yet, so so broken. & all the problems of the relationship & why it didn’t work are at the front of your mind; & then H sings “spreading you open / is the only way of knowing you” which ties so perfectly with H on “Golden”: “I know you’re scared ’cause I’m so open”. With “Fine Line”, you are back at the start of the road but you are not the same as when you started. You have made it through, but the bruises from Side B are still so tender. There’s drumming after he sings “we’ll be alright” & I feel those beats in my chest every single time. His use of “we” here instead of “I” shows what he’s feeling by hiding it: I read the “we” here as him referring only to himself (because the II person is alright [& that’s what he’s so mad/sad about in “Cherry”]) & him using “we” is a technique which creates a distance between the lonely “I” & the audience he’s opening himself to. & the fact that he needs to use “we” instead of “I” just serves to further highlight how gutted he is.

& chances are, by this point, you feel the same.

Rating: god tier

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