Written by James Waddington |
Following the 2016 release of sophomore album I like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, Matt Healy, George Daniel, Adam Hann and Ross MacDonald, who make up The 1975 soared to new heights after building on their self titled debut LP.
With respectable slots at Glastonbury, Coachella and countless other festivals across the world, I like it when you sleep… proved that a four man guitar band can still find huge commercial success without sacrificing praiseworthy musicianship or simply re-writing album 1. Between playing their last show in July 2017 at Latitude festival and recording their next two albums, (more to come May 2019) the band all moved to a studio residence in LA. In this time, Healy, the bands frontman and primary songwriter also battled a heroin addiction, which exposes itself in full capacity in his deeply personal lyrics which manifest themselves so poignantly across the new album. Now clean, Healy has said that writing about his struggles with addiction was key to the honesty of A Brief Inquiry…, a record which explores issues of addiction, suicide and even a smattering of Trump – all of which are instrumental in its overall theme of the impact of technology and the internet as suggested by its title.
With regards to ‘the curse of the third album’; a comparison can undoubtedly be made to Radiohead’s OK Computer, both thematically and materially. Pushing the boundaries of what defines a ‘rock’ album in the 21st century. Fans of the band’s previous material, especially their first album, may be shocked by the LP’s vastness and refusal to conform to ‘genre’, in a fashion almost recollective of The Beatles White album it segways from jazz to hip-hop to funk to 80’s pop to acoustic ballads and just about everything in between. As Healy puts it, “we just create what we consume” – this has been the bands mantra since very early in their careers and it is this attitude that is probably accountable for their widespread appeal. Choosing to completely self-produce the album, uncharted territory for Healy and Daniel (Drums) the band now had free rein to push boundaries even further; the resulting music would suggest this is a highly favourable formula.
Ever present album opening intro The 1975 which as beautiful as it sounds, is about sex in a car, is again reworked; stripped back to a jazzy piano riff with a piercing vocoded vocal (it sounds like the boys have been listening to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million). This is followed by lead single Give Yourself A Try which sees Healy giving hypothetical advice to a younger carnation of himself, subtly poking at issues prevalent in every day politics in his usual wit and irony:
His lyric is accompanied by a simple distorted guitar riff that tips its hat to Joy Division, a single bar loops throughout the songs duration, the theory being that the distorted effect on the guitar makes the brain hear the repeated riff differently each time.
‘I found a grey hair in one of my zoots
Like context in a modern debate I just took it out’
Another single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME is a bubble gum pop track that again flexes Healy & Daniel’s versatility as producers, although perhaps the albums weakest track lyrically, it is definitely the most recollective of a ‘pop song’ and it is undeniably (or annoyingly depending on your taste) catchy. Yet somehow it does feel that TOOTIME…might be more at home on a Drake album or remaining purely as a single. With this said, it is this sort of bold and unexpected turn that fills every crevasse of the album helping to define it as such a groundbreaking collection of music.
Reworked from its original state as a piano interlude on album 2, How To Draw / Petrichorblends a hovering music box almost and childlike piano with layers of auto-tuned harmonising vocals. Lyrics become increasingly difficult to distinguish as they are warped and bent to move into a fast paced synth and drum machine composition. Healy’s voice then re-enters – this time without the autotune, despite this simplicity it somehow sounds least like Healy’s voice.
Love It If We Made It, a personal favourite, is an honest and compelling commentary on the corruption of everything that is wrong with the world; with references to dead children on a beach, racial hate crime and direct quotes from the President: ‘I moved on her like a bitch’ – all facilitated by the internet. Beautifully ironic, Healy commented in a recent radio interview that the band were unable to play this song because of its blue language as it is censored for quoting the leader of the free world! Healy remarks his angst at how the internet’s role in society has led to a world obsessed with attention, left ‘saying controversial things just for the hell of it’. The contributions from other band members are also instrumental (pardon the pun) in the songs tightness, the punchy bass line and computerised synth that drones throughout the song heighten the intro and later build up to a further Trump tweet ‘Thank you Kanye, very cool!’.
Be My Mistake, is one of the albums moments for contemplation. It couldn’t be further from the anthem-like chorus of its predecessor. An acoustic guitar ballad, so raw, vulnerable and painful, its beauty is owed to its honest lyric of regret and loneliness.
Sincerity is Scary, described by Healy in a tweet as ‘the 1975iest The 1975 song since The 1975’s first album The 1975’, the funky gospel track tackles society’s inability to be sincere in meaning, instead hiding in the typically British mask of sarcasm and irony.Sincerity is Scary questions why it is that we shy away from showing our emotions and opinions – ‘try and mask your pain in the most post-modern way’. Healy would appear to be exposing a very real societal fear; to say or feel anything that might be outside convention.
A self proclaimed ‘homage to Soundcloud rap’ (noteworthy that the music site is now given its own genre), the modestly titled I Like America & America likes me borrows its title from the work of U.S. conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. It apparently materialised after a change in attitude to our cross-Atlantic neighbours and their country after living there for a year, and touring in the states so extensively with the last 2 albums. Describing it as ‘the sound of America to me at the moment’ Healy says, ‘I was almost going to put it out with just mumble lyrics, to see how far I could take it’. The work of Beuys involved a performance where the artist locked himself in a room with a wild coyote for 3 days. At first the coyote was hostile, but they learned to live with each other – maybe the band found the U.S. a tough crowd at first?
Next comes The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme, if this album is the band’s response to OK Computer then this is its Fitter Happier (also definitely drawing inspiration from even earlier Beatles interlude – Revolution 9). The spoken word piece see’s Healy’s vocal tones replaced by Apple’s digital P.A., Siri. The monotony of the computerised voice invokes a sort of hypnosis, accompanied by an orchestral arrangement which is nothing short of astounding. Another analysis of society’s reliance on technology, the song tells the tale of protagonist ‘SnowflakeSmasher86’ and his best friend, ‘the internet’ in a witty yet oddly relatable account of their life together.
It’s Not Living (If Its Not With You), opens up about Healy’s battle with heroin as the singer depicts the everyday struggles of addiction, comparing himself to a character, Danny who is an addict:
The song disguises its true message by personifying the drug as a romantic inclination, ‘And all I do is sit and think about you’. It’s funky, compressed guitar has a very 80s feel and musically draws quite a lot of similarities with I Like It When You Sleep… track, She’s American. It tackles how heroin can be romanticised and made to seem glamorous by its association with wealth and rock ’n’ roll, hiding its real, destructive nature, ‘Collapse my veins, wearing beautiful shoes’.
‘He’s gotta search the street when he’s on vacation
The worst thing isthat I’m in the same situation’
Surrounded by heads and bodies is bursting with Radiohead vibes, notably its fingerpicked guitar progression as it falls into the chorus – when I heard this I thought I’d accidentally pressed play on In Rainbows. The song has a definite tone of nostalgia, its addressee, ‘Angela’ is a woman Healy met in Barbados, also undergoing rehab. As it happens, she also lives on the same road as the singer in Manchester and although the two remained fairly distant from each other, Healy wrote this song for her. The arrangement uses empty space so well: For the most part only an acoustic guitar and drums are present with flutters of various synthesisers creating additional background ambience. Its name is taken from David Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the book that Healy read in rehab, the song takes a very immersive form and at times, can be quite haunting.
So at this point you’re thinking that they’ve done it, every genre possible covered in 12 tracks, something most artists won’t do in their whole careers. Enter Mine, a sophisticated slow jazz track that oozes class and sways you as you listen. The brushed snare and shuffling high-hats finished with a delicate piano sound very aristocratic. The song was inspired by the bands love of saxophonist John Coltrane. ‘Imagine writing a new Gershwin Song’ says Healy – I must say he isn’t far off here.
I Couldn’t be more in Love could easily be part of the soundtrack to Pretty Woman, both lyrically and musically. It’s so soulful and sounds very Whitney-esque, the vocals were recorded the day before Healy entered rehab, capturing him at his most raw and fragile. He is nearly at breaking point here and it shows, you might be very easily mislead to believe this song is about a girl, rather it is actually addressing the fans. It also incorporates an absolute face-melter of a guitar solo, recorded in one take.
I can’t help but think they saved the best ’til last here, I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) is a future Brit-pop anthem. Every time I listen I imagine it being screamed by thousands at a festival. It’s like Bittersweet Symphony’s edgier cousin. The strings are so cinematic and the lyrics that talk about suicide and its impacts are brutal and stomach-turning:
‘There’s no point in buying concrete shoes’
Shortly to embark on a largely sold out worldwide tour, it will be exciting to see how the band recreates the immensity of this album in their live shows. Especially given the ambitious nature of the instrumentation on the LP, frequently involving string and brass sections, gospel choirs and whole orchestras. Notes On a Conditional Form, which was recorded back to back with A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships is due for release as an album in May 2019. Healy has said that the main theme of the fourth album is UK nighttime and that it is more ‘intimate, nocturnal and cinematic’ than its predecessor. Basically, it is a very exciting time to be a fan of The 1975 but just expect the unexpected. This album is career defining and as cliché as it might sound, I genuinely believe that it is going to be a landmark in music and something that will be talked about for years to come. Having read so many amazing reviews praising the album for its wide appeal, I must say I was skeptical before listening that one of my favourite bands might have sold their souls for another No. 1 album. But they didn’t need to. Anyone in the 21st century has to find this album relevant, at its best it’s groundbreaking, at its worst it’s good music!