“I’m baaack,” Harry Styles said to open his concert in Inglewood on Friday night, and he didn’t just mean with a second solo album.
Standing onstage in front of a capacity crowd at the Forum, the 25-year-old British pop star had again taken over a storied L.A. rock spot to celebrate a record release — just like he did two years ago when he packed the Troubadour while rolling out his self-titled debut.
As at that 2017 gig, Styles brought a special guest in keeping with the vintage surroundings: Stevie Nicks, who sauntered out in one of her signature looks — frilly dress, camel-colored boots, fingerless black-leather gloves — and eased into Fleetwood Mac’s deathless “Landslide” as her boyish pal gazed at her admiringly.
“It wouldn’t be an album launch for me without this young lady,” Styles told the audience, his tone slightly chummier and less awestruck than it was at the Troubadour. “She’s been a light for me, and I’m sure she’s been a light for each and every one of you.”
It’s easy to see why Nicks has warmed to Styles, whose new album, “Fine Line,” extends the loving fascination with ’70s-era classic rock that he revealed on his platinum debut (and hinted at back in his days with the boy band One Direction). At a moment when the hip-hop-attuned Top 40 bears little trace of the old Forum giants, Styles’ enthusiasm tells Nicks and her peers — including Mick Fleetwood, who was also in the house Friday — that they still matter.
What’s interesting is that this throwback vibe hasn’t cost Styles his place near the center of the zeitgeist. Though he’s not a hit-maker à la Billie Eilish or Travis Scott, he commands an intensely devoted following as young and diverse as that of any other pop A-lister; more important, he’s viewed as a kind of woke heartthrob, with happily evolved ideas about gender and sexuality.
In “Fine Line’s” throbbing lead single, “Adore You,” Styles sings about walking in “your rainbow paradise” before describing an infatuation in deeply nontoxic terms: “You don’t have to say you love me / You don’t have to say nothing / You don’t have to say you’re mine.” In “Falling,” a mournful piano ballad, he pities himself after a breakup without getting creepy about it.
Even the folky “Cherry” — widely thought to be about Styles’ ex the French model Camille Rowe — puts a welcome wrinkle in a familiar form. “I noticed that there’s a piece of you in how I dress,” he sings in a lyric both sexier and more tender than the things rock dudes typically say about the ones that got away.
At the Forum, where Styles wore a colorful shirt and high-waisted trousers that called to mind Scarlett Johansson dressed as David Bowie in “Marriage Story,” he and his live band performed “Fine Line” from beginning to end, fans singing along with every word in spite of the fact that the album had come out only 24 hours before. He said this was likely the only time he’d do the whole record, but he also teased the lengthy world tour he’ll undertake in 2020, saying he “can’t wait to share this album with you about 90 more times next year.”
Not everything was as neatly textured as it is on “Fine Line,” which cleverly updates the sound of “Diamond Dogs” and “Tusk” and “One of These Nights”; here, “Adore You” felt a bit lumpy, while “Golden” never quite attained the euphoric quality Styles and his producers got in the studio.
But “Treat People With Kindness,” a wildly earnest hippie-salvation chant that could’ve been cut from the musical “Godspell,” actually fared better here as Styles twirled around the stage in a convincing state of abandon.
For his encore, the singer reached back to his debut for the Bowie-ish “Sign of the Times” and “Kiwi,” which rocked significantly harder Friday — we’re talking within spitting distance of AC/DC — than it ever did on Styles’ earlier tours. He also remade One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” as though the Velvet Underground had written it.
And following Nicks’ appearance, he nodded to one more of his classic-rock heroes with a sweet rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” complete with tiny squares of white paper that showered the audience from above.
“It’s snowing in California,” Styles pointed out — a trick of place to go with his tricks of time.