On September 23, 2013, I swung into my friend Tyler’s family Subaru, glancing at the time. Tyler handed me his phone and started driving, trusting me to determine the energy of our 20-minute drive. To me, it was obvious what we would be listening to that night.
With the release of their latest album “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships,” on Nov. 30, would it be possible for me to separate my deep-seated nostalgia for The 1975 long enough to write an unbiased review of their third full-length effort? Likely so. Their debut self-titled album happened to arrive right in the middle of my high school experience. My memories have shaped the record as much as the record has shaped my memories. And still, half a decade later, in a new place, with new friends and a new life, it’s hard not to get excited about The 1975.
The 1975’s pretentious, melodrama is a constant source of contention with listeners. Love them or hate them though, they have a way of always being talked about. With their follow up to the gaudy, extravagant, sophomore effort titled “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It”, hypnotic frontman Matty Healy embraces the duality of his outfit, steeped in a largely female fan base and boy band-esque media coverage, while at the same time hailed by critics as both innovative and reflective of the greater millennial musical zeitgeist.
Bands with initial success, especially success driven by a large and active fanbase, must always walk a line between pleasing their constituents and creating exciting, relevant music. Perhaps no band may be more aware of this duality than The 1975. Healy’s unique self-awareness of their position could serve to vindicate his overbearing sentimentality, evidenced in his melodramatic lyricism. Matty’s vocals— jaunty, raspy, willfully drippy— evoke memories of his British frontman influences including Sting, Noel Gallagher, and Thom Yorke. This kind of emotionalism can polarize music fans. Do Matty and Co. deserve the hate they get for their pretentious, self-serving antics? Probably. Do they deserve the veritable worship by millions of fans around the world for their innovation, energy, and refusal to defined by the status-quo? I would say, yes.
Like Healy’s own life, which has been wracked with cycles of drug abuse and rehab, “A Brief Inquiry…” certainly has its ups and downs. Solid tracks build upon previous 1975 hits, including singles “Sincerity Is Scary” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”, songs which help the listener track the band’s development of their distinct sound. Still others give a nod to obvious 1975 influences, with “Give Yourself A Try”’s ties to Joy Division,” The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme” and its clear tribute to Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” or their stadium-shaking closer “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” reminiscent of their Manchester forefathers, Oasis. Other tracks fall embarrassingly flat: Ed Sheeran-esque acoustic ballad “Be My Mistake” caters to teenage fangirls, but fails to represent what makes The 1975 so special. “Surrounded By Heads and Bodies”, a soft and rhythmic take on love and pain in rehabilitation, lacks the vocal energy and instrumental diversity to bring it to the level of the runaway song of the entire album, “Couldn’t Be More In Love”, which places Healy’s vocals at their rawest and most enticing on a backdrop of gaudy, hypnotizing 80s synth and a gospel choir. Fan-favorite “Love It If We Made It” shines as probably the most “1975” song on the new record, pairing a heady drum loop with Healy’s melodramatic cry: “Jesus save us / Modernity has failed us / And I’d love it if we made it,” while breakaway stadium anthem “Inside Your Mind” will likely leave fans “oohing” and “aahing” at concerts with its goosebump-inducing guitar loop, courtesy of lead guitarist Adam Hann. Other notable tracks include “I Like America & America Likes Me”, Healy’s sensational rage against the machine, as well as eclectic, electrifying “How To Draw / Petrichor”, which may best represent the titular mission of the album.
When Radiohead released Kid A at the turn of the century, fans were split. Questions over Yorke’s vision, their new sound, and their embrace of modern electronic music wracked the same fan base who had rabidly supported them through three records. Whether this will be the case for The 1975’s OK Computer, critically acclaimed yet divisive to their fans, is yet to be determined. Maybe it will just stand as another pretentious and overbearing example of millennial music-making. It just needs a little time, and maybe a little perspective. When I asked my friend Tyler what he thought of “A Brief Inquiry,” he responded with a simple: “I wish they would go back to making huge guitar rock songs instead of overly produced pop music.” There’s a wisdom in that.