The 1975 channel the millennial existence for a biting pop album that offers a lot of warmth and vulnerability for the stressed and lovestruck among us.
With The 1975, I’m taken back to a time a whole few years ago where I was really into bands like The Naked and Famous, The Chain Gang of 1974, and other bands with similar takes on an electropop sound. All of these bands have different approaches, but the commonality comes in the emotional connection to the music. Today’s band of focus comes in with a directness you don’t often see in the genre. Drugs, sex, obsession, mistakes, even death – everything is on the table with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, and the album handles it all with an admirable realism and lovely instrumentation that runs across the entire pop music spectrum.
“The Man Who Married a Robot” is a spoken word ‘skiterlude’ that reads like the screenplay for a cheeky Black Mirror episode. This is probably where the album gets the most connection back to its title with a man loving the Internet, getting emotional fulfillment from it (I mean, who doesn’t, am I right?). It’s a little heavy-handed thematically, but it’s also worthy of a knowing chuckle for some of us. There’s nothing wrong with being on-the-nose, right? Pretty much every other song on here is handled with romantic delicateness, although there are some slight detours that we’ll get into as well.
“Give Yourself a Try” is a bright, mid-tempo self-arraignment. Singer Matt Healy is 29 (same age as me, for the record), and has a wealth of knowledge compared to his younger self, but also more cynicism and snark:
‘And what would you say to your younger self?
Growing a beard’s quite hard
And whiskey never starts to taste nice
And you’ll make a lot of money, and it’s funny
‘Cause you’ll move somewhere sunny and get addicted to drugs
And spend obscene amounts on fucking seeds and beans online‘
It’s true – with age does come a special sort of jadedness toward the world, hell, even yourself if you allow it. Healy is markedly aware of this throughout this mostly autobiographical effort, but much of the rest of the music here lacks the brash distancing seen here. In fact, you’ll soon see that it’s handled with a lot of heart when dealing with something personal like infidelity (“TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” and “Be My Mistake”) or the anxious nature of letting your guard down and being a human (“Sincerity Is Scary”).
Musically speaking, I’m not sure it’s possible for anyone to be bored while listening to this album. You want acoustic softness? You get it in “Surrounded By Heads and Bodies”. Like 80s pop rock love jams? “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” has got your back, even if it’s a song about heroin addiction. You like, uh…Michael McDonald? “I Couldn’t Be More In Love” is the one for you. The 1975 are incredibly versatile here, but it’s all made cohesive due to the frequently frank nature of the lyrics, themes, and tonal undercurrent the band is good at infusing into each song. What gets me the most is the soulful approach in “Sincerity Is Scary”. The horns are intimate, matching up to Healy’s gentle candor and delivery well, and the choir that erupts in the chorus is absolutely unexpected and powerful.
There’s little touches in the music that play to the themes of songs, like how autotune is used in the dancy “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” when Healy is insinuating how him talking to another woman while in a relationship isn’t anything to fret about. It’s making something rough or flat-out bad sound a bit more palatable. “Love It If We Made It” has the vocals soar above everything else in the mix as Healy yells obscenities on social ills covering everything from direct quotes of Trump to the predatory prison-for-profit system in America. The instrumental on the other hand is delightfully sunny, the guitars having an 80s vibe to them. Still, the song’s chorus is hopeful, pulling back enough to acknowledge the stress of existence, but also that it’d be great if we made it out alright on the other side.
[CONTENT WARNING for some potentially disturbing images and flashing colors and lights in this video]
I think the real hook of this album is, despite its eccentricities, it’s a pretty down-to-earth exposé on love and self in the age of the swipe. The mood of the music makes you curious, perhaps envious, about feelings of love that people can get lost in, and there’s a number of ways from which those are approached sonically. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is multifaceted just like love itself; it doesn’t have to refer to love with a person, and it’s not always healthy for you regardless of what it’s with. There’s honesty in that. It’s reflective and even self-flagellating, like the times you look back on a relationship with a clear head and soberly say ‘man, what the hell was I thinking?’; it’s vulnerable and empathetic to the spiral of depression and how someone might look to numb oneself, be it with a substance or getting lost in someone else’s eyes. I think The 1975 get that and so much more, and this album is here acting as a knowing wink and nod to those going through some trials in their lives.