A sneak peak behind the singer's anticipated sophomore release.

It’s downplaying the issue to say that Harry Styles‘ forthcoming second album, Fine Line, is one of the year’s most anticipated records. More than two years have passed since Styles dropped his self-titled debut solo LP, making every piece of the unfolding puzzle around his sophomore effort more exciting than the next. Take the build up to his latest single, “Adore You,” where Team Styles led a cryptic campaign for a brand-new holiday destination called Edora. Fans soon worked out that this was a fictional island (named after “Adore” backwards, obviously), and now we know that its epic accompanying short film in which the 25-year-old befriends a fish takes place there. It’s weird, it’s fun, it’s cheeky, it’s Harry.

EW recently got a first listen of Fine Line — which includes “Adore You” along with previously released singles “Watermelon Sugar” and “Light Up” — ahead of its release. Here’s what we learned, and what fans can expect, when the album drops on Dec. 13.

Harry Styles

Harry Loves California

Styles recorded Fine Line between the U.K., Nashville, and L.A. But the fittingly named Shangri La studios in Malibu has left its mark on a record imbued with a carefree Cali breeze. The album opens with “Golden,” an immediate sharp turn from the pensive, spacious beginnings of his debut LP. The track is brash, rhythmic, and blindingly bright. There’s a simplicity, lyrical directness (“golden, you’re so golden!” Styles chirps), and a musical capriciousness emerging from the type of confidence that comes from spending increased time doing the soul-searching Los Angeles inspires in its inhabitants. In turn, Styles’ record doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as his last. It’s always easier to have fun once you’re over the hurdle of having to prove your worth. Also, he name-checks the Beachwood Cafe in L.A. on “Falling,” so best be retiring that one given the hoards of fans who will be camped out there from now until eternity.

It’s not a concept album

The album doesn’t seem to follow a story arc. With Fine Line, Harry is constantly dancing in and out of desire and destruction. That said, there are plentiful fruit references throughout with titles including “Watermelon Sugar” (a song fans consider to be a coded innuendo for oral sex) and “Cherry” (as well as zesty lyrics “lemon over ice” and a “strawberry lipstick state of mind” on “Adore You”). The overall theme appears to be freedom — which checks out given Styles’ previous admission that the Shangri La sessions involved tripping on psychedelics — and musicality. There are strings, there are horns, there is a double bass, there are two enormous guitar solos, an elongated jam (on “She”), a title track that acts often as a mediative instrumental, and even a gospel choir (on “Treat People With Kindness”).

There’s a lot of sad sex

Styles told Rolling Stone that the album was “all about having sex and feeling sad.” And truly, even on the album’s most flirtatious moments, Styles is consumed by conscience. With “Golden” he’s readying himself for new temptation, beckoning his prey to surrender: “I know that you’re scared because hearts get broken,” he sings, employing the principle of caveat emptor ahead of what’s to come. “Canyon Moon” is rooted in the Laurel Canyon sound, making reference to a “Jenny.” “She plays songs I’ve never heard/ An old lover’s hippie music,” he sings, while morosely missing a lady back in L.A. during his European tours. “Falling” is the record’s lofty ballad, featuring Styles waking from a hangover regretting “my wandering hands.” Is he a cheat? “I’m well aware I write too many songs about you,” so he goes, as his voice bursts with passion in a way we’ve yet to hear. He’s older. There are less excuses. The final titular track clocks in at over six minutes. Lyrically sparse, it compares a relationship to a fine line. “Spreading you open is the only way of knowing you…”. It’s a final musing on relationship tension, concluding that even when things are hairy “we’ll be alright.”

The Britishness jumps out

Styles was recently mocked by fans for sounding too American in his Zane Lowe interview. Rest assured, he’s very British on the new record, as he flexes his accent on “She,” in the way he pronounces the time, and in singing about “mates.” “Sunflower, Vol.6” sounds more like late 2000s New York (Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, etc) but is arguably British in its ownership of its own weirdness. As Styles plays the field, he gets weirder. And British people are weird. That’s why British rock is weird. (I can say that, I’m British and also weird).

Grown-up Harry is no angel

His album dedication reads: “To all that I’ve done, the good and the bad. That is life.” There is a lot of good. Fine Line‘s penultimate track “Treat People With Kindness” puts his by-now well-trodden mantra to song, possessing all the upbeat pomp and celebration of something from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. But in spite of asking others to live with well-meaning intentions, Styles is not offering up a squeaky clean portrait of himself. Previously he tells us he’s an “arrogant son of a bitch who can’t admit when he’s sorry” on “To Be So Lonely,” a Spanish guitar-filled experiment in which he puts himself on trial. On “Cherry,” too, he admits to being “selfish” while missing this lover. “Does he take you walking round his parents’ gallery?” he says. It’s the closest Styles comes to a burn, never bitter enough to lose his cheek.

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