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How the 1975 turned 2018 inside out: ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’

| Monday, January 28, 2019

Joseph Han

If looking back on 2018 will ever be a good experience, we’ll have the 1975 to thank. With the bombardment of albums that come out near the end of the year, the 1975’s “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” flew under the radar in America, despite the massive marketing campaign and landing at No.1, on the top charts in the United Kingdom. Only now, as the band begins, its world tour is the album getting the press it deserved. 

Manchester outfit The 1975 released their third studio album, “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” on the last day of November 2018. The album spans drug addiction, relationships and how the internet has redefined how we interact with the world. Sonically, the record is a sound-bath of varying genres and musical styles. From an instrumental track starting like a Disney-theme-song-turned-homage to M83 and Burial, to an auto-tuned trap anthem to neo-jazz, the 1975 maximize their expression while distilling their intention.

The 1975 has never been a band that has shied away from being provocative and loquacious, both in music and in presentation. Frontman Matty Healy told Billboard, “there are no big bands who are doing anything as interesting as us right now.” Their previous album was titled “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful, yet So Unaware of It,” which, as one might expect, was decadent and ambitious in every way. Their new album distills the grandeur of their former sound to a concise narrative concerned with the quality of the human condition in the digital age.

This album begins with a different interpretation of the same lyrics featured at the start of the previous two albums. Healy reminds you to “breathe through your nose” before the album unleashes a feverish distorted guitar riff over an anxious drum beat in “Give Yourself A Try.” Healy reflects on what fame has taught him, “like friends don’t lie and it all tastes the same in the dark.” His first mention of addiction, “And you’ll make a lot of money, and it’s funny ‘cause you’ll move somewhere sunny and get addicted to drugs,” is written like a punchline, before returning to the forgiving hook. The song displays hope and drugs, two of the main narratives and processes them internally before looking outward.

The band has its biggest peaks and troughs in the moments when it confronts the macroscopic. “Love It If We Made It,” does incredibly well. In the song, Healy signposts and enumerates 2018 in an overwhelming cadence similar to a Twitter feed. The songs’ music however, is what makes it drive: the panting piano and marching drums that open the song keeps the listener on edge until halfway through, when horns come in and bestow a hope and technicolor to the track. The song is a time-stamp, something like the modern day “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

On the other hand, “The Man Who Married A Robot/Love Theme” satirizes how omnipresent the internet is, but falls short of its intention. In what has now been decided as the band’s “Fitter Happier” moment (in reference to the song from Radiohead’s “OK Computer”), Siri narrates the story of a man named SnowflakeSmasher86, who falls in love, putatively ending his loneliness. However, when he dies, the man is still “in his lonely house, on the lonely street, in that lonely part of the world” — but, “you can go on his Facebook.” Though it intended to craft an ending with a lyrical jump-scare, the song is littered with comedy and lacks the abrupt ending it needs to hit as hard as it wants. This is the trade-off of maximalism: when the 1975 reaches so high, its missteps are bigger, too.

One of the ways Healy has honed his bigger-than life expression is through sharp lyricism. Last album, it wasn’t clear whether he was trying to engender juxtaposition (pop songs with big words) or being wordy (“hyper-politicized sexual tryst / Oh I think my boyfriend’s a nihilist”) to validate his poppy melodies. It’s clear on this album that he is neither, and has mastered phrasing couplets that don’t deter from the song’s intention. On “Sincerity is Scary,” Healy speaks candidly: “And why would believe you could control how you’re perceived when at your best your intermediately versed in your own feelings?” The line is short enough to be a tweet, but addresses the complexities of mediating life digitally.

At times of distress, music can provide a mirror to present truth of our inward or empathize with our external experiences. The 1975 have made an album for the decade that does both, insightfully and without being disrespectful or insincere.

Artist: The 1975

Album: A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

Label: Dirty Hit/Polydor

Favorite Tracks: “Love it If We Made It,” “How to Draw / Petrichor,” “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

If You Like: Blur, My Bloody Valentine, Sigur Ros, Boyz II Men, The Blue Nile

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

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