Album Review The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships5 Stars
A bombastic, immaculately put together portrait of modern life.
It was with The 1975’s second album, 2016’s ‘i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’, that Matty Healy and co pushed their band from a massively popular yet largely base-level operation into genuinely important statement-purveyors. Musically, the record was a manic, scattered, genre-spanning canvas but remained tied together by the frontman’s frenzied takes on relationships, drugs, and navigating life as a young person in such a paranoid era. Sure, the bubblegum hits remained - ‘The Sound’ is pure, euphoric chart fodder - but unlike ‘Chocolate’, ‘Sex’ and ‘Girls’ from their debut, it was flanked by deep dives into the human psyche and the darkest corners of our minds.
For a band so young - if immensely popular - it seemed like an album so broad in scale and scope that it was impossible to follow. But, as the tour for ‘i like it when you sleep…’ thundered towards its conclusion, and Matty’s place as an icon was quickly being cemented, they already pointed towards their next steps. ‘1st June’ was thrown about at the last show of the second album’s tour - a headline slot at Latitude Festival 2017 - and though the frontman was in the middle of what would be later revealed as a deep-rooted addiction that would lead to a trip to rehab via equine therapy, the next steps of The 1975 were already stretching out in front of them. Never ones to slow down or take the easy road, it was then revealed in advance of the 1st June deadline that the ‘Music For Cars’ era would include not one album, but two. The first of these is ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’.
Two albums wrapping up a truly exciting era from the most boundary-pushing bands right now in a pair of easily digestible chunks, right? Wrong. ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ isn’t simple, or straightforward, and its points aren’t particularly easy to hear. But that’s not how it feels to be a young person in 2018, and on ‘A Brief Inquiry…’, The 1975 transmit how it does feel immaculately.
The five songs released in advance of the album hold it together beautifully. ‘Give Yourself A Try’ circles around a pop-punk guitar riff and both harbour lyrics quipping about modern debates and confront the suicide of a young fan within the blink of an eye - neither are made to feel contrived. ‘Love It If We Made It’, meanwhile, is the cacophonous centrepiece, Matty barking scattered political statements over sharp, harsh production that explodes into a funky strut for its chorus, which, repeating the track’s title, claws some hope from the mire.
‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ is a welcome respite in the form of three-minutes of pop heaven, while ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ bemoans a culture that encourages people to mask their pain over fluttering jazz, and ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ is a heart-thumping pop epic that confronts Matty’s heroin addiction head-on, while managing to be both an intimately personal account and a relatable, transferrable statement. They provide the anchor of an album that far from ignores the problems facing young people face-on, but plays out as a soundtrack and guide through the often disorientating, anxiety-inducing path.
Around these five tracks - singles, in some sense of the word - their musical experimentation continues in earnest. ‘How To Draw / Petrichor’ is a sparkling two-part epic that doesn’t give too much away lyric-wise - it’s all shrouded under near-suffocating but atmospheric autotune - but explodes into a skittish techno outro that’s more than forceful enough without context. ‘Be My Mistake’, meanwhile, concerns unfaithfulness while on tour, a poignant portrait of regret over soft acoustic guitar. “You do make me hard, but she makes me weak,” Matty near-whispers, not asking for sympathy, but laying out his mistakes and practicing the openness he and his band preach across the album.
‘Inside Your Mind’ is a musically sparse, emotional ballad that recalls the icy, booming soundscapes of Majical Cloudz, while ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’ also uses autotune to a lyric-masking extreme. Some pop out from the haze though: “I’m scared of dying,”, and its roared chorus, “would you pleeease listen”, near-begging the listener to be submerged further in, refusing to accept any millennial stereotypes.
This idea is hammered home on the Siri-narrated ‘The Man Who Married A Robot’, which tells the story of a man who falls in love with the internet. In a debate of two sides - youngsters who are angry and laugh at those who bemoan technology as the devil, and Banksy-like figures who make faux-deep statements about the government controlling us through our Instagram accounts - The 1975 sit somewhere in the middle on ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, trying to embrace the world we all find ourselves in, while not shying away from its pitfalls and anxieties. It makes for an album that’s comprehensive in its voice, brutally honest, and musically broad. It also manages to turn what could be a deeply personal album about the frontman’s struggles and triumphs into a universal statement on the times we live in.
As the album closes with the cacophonous, widescreen outcry of ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’, the band put their flag in the ground as the most intriguing musical voice we have, creating a bombastic, immaculately put together portrait of modern life.
You can still buy a copy of our June 2018 issue featuring The 1975 - get your hands on it right here!
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