The 1975’s Notes On A Conditional Form: their most explorative, diverse and honest work to date

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The 1975 at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool

The 1975 released their long-awaited fourth album this week and Getintothis’ Mia Hind delves into what to expect from the Manchester four piece’s newest offering.

How do you follow up a universally acclaimed, BRIT and Ivor Novello-winning, Grammy and Mercury-nominated album? How do you even start?

In the case of The 1975, they began teasing the follow-up to 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, Notes on a Conditional Form, before it was even released and was recorded mostly on tour, across studios and tour buses in four countries.

Originally slated for release in 2019, then February 2020, then April 2020, Notes finally made it’s debut this past Friday, 22nd May, after casually declaring it was being pushed back once more at their massive M&S Bank Arena show in February.

But was it worth the wait?

Well truthfully, that really depends on your own personal taste.

Because of course, one of the most divisive and polarising contemporary bands of the last decade had to open this decade with the most divisive and polarising album of 2020 so far, loathed and lauded by fans and critics in equal measure.

Across 22 tracks and 80 minutes, there is a lot to take in on Notes and a lot of the intricacies that make the album so intriguing can be missed in just one playthrough.

It’s definitely worth a second listen and an open mind.

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If A Brief Inquiry was about our relationship with the internet and digital culture, Notes is about our relationship with ourselves – or at the very least, Matty Healy’s relationship with himself.

The ego constructed and flaunted across I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, is picked apart in some of Healy’s best and most painstakingly honest songwriting yet.

The Birthday Party, in particular, begins with sparkly piano and builds into slow drums layered with guitars, a banjo and the sound of crowds chattering before eventually arriving into stream-of-consciousness, conversational vocals that switch between funny and heartbreaking, detailing awkward conversations, hotel bathroom habits and eventually the admission of relying on friends to stay clean, before moving into a smooth saxophone solo over the same dreamlike instrumentals that played the song in.

Roadkill‘s lyrics follow a similar theme, equally as confessional about life on tour, this time sung over country twangs. It’s one of the album’s more lighthearted tracks, referencing their 2014 single Robbers while poking fun at themselves and Healy‘s penchant for Twitter controversy.

Both tracks border on oversharing, even causing one to flinch at times.

It would’ve been unthinkable for The 1975 two records ago, but in a world where young people have come to expect more transparency and honesty from their idols alongside the band’s desire to break down their own ego, it feels fitting.

Then Because She Goes and Me & You Together Song are full of shoegazey nostalgia as they depict tales of falling and being in love.

The former feels like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it highlight of the album, being little over two minutes in length as he begs his lover not to leave or cry to the tune of angsty distorted guitars.

The latter is a more upbeat, jangle-pop take on falling in love and fantasising about mundane life together, invoking the spirit of Busted‘s What I Go To School For.

Neither would feel out of place in an early 2000’s coming-of-age movie.

Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied continues to pick apart Healy‘s persona over a gospel choir as he duets with a pitch-modulated version of himself.

Opening with a chorus that seems to beg for a higher power in the vein of I Like It When You Sleep‘s If I Believe You, the first line of the first verse then immediately contradicts the first line of 2018’s Love It If We Made It before continuing to take swipes at himself.

Playing out over jazzy pianos the song then goes on to directly call out those trying to keep up with their own lies and artists charging high prices for exclusive meet-and-greets on tour. It’s as self-referential and genre-blending as The 1975 have ever been and perhaps encapsulates everything they’re known to be so far.

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The influence of UK Garage and house is heavy, with glitchy drum beats, pitch modulation and vocal sampling making more of an appearance than they have on any of their previous releases.

The seeds for this departure in sound were sown across their 2012 EPs and most recently in A Brief Inquiry through tracks TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME, How To Draw / Petrichor and I Like America and America Likes Me. This new exploration is bound to confuse and disappoint some fans.

It is as far away from the “signature” ‘80s-inspired, synth-infused pop-rock as they’ve ever dared, but for the most part, it’s a risk that has paid off.

UK Garage is felt most heavily in Yeah I Know and Shiny Collarbone, the latter featuring vocal samples from Jamaican Dancehall legend Cutty Ranks, a collaboration that shouldn’t work on paper.

Both tracks rely little on vocal performances and instead rely on George Daniel’s stellar production to make work. Arguably the two weakest tracks on the album, that’s not because these tracks are inherently bad or of a lower quality, rather that the vast majority of the other 20 tracks just shine brighter.

Frail State of Mind and I Think There’s Something You Should Know take these influences and teams them with lyrics brimming with anxiety. Frail State of Mind feels eerie now, the opening line “Go outside? seems unlikely” hitting differently amid Coronavirus.

Coming so early in the album and so soon after the angry People, it sets a very anxious tone for the rest of the record. I Think There’s Something You Should Know works in a similar vein, with a dance beat contradicting vocals that detail mental health struggles and trying to stay afloat while simultaneously dismissing their own issues as “just feeling sorry for myself”

Notes’ bold experimentation across numerous themes and genres means it lacks cohesion that was present amongst its predecessors, it often feels confusing and messy.

Those that prefer albums to flow easily between tracks and for the tracklisting to follow a logical sense either sonically or thematically may struggle to listen from start to finish.

On the flip side, the messiness feels almost human. We all contain multitudes, after all. No person is just one thing and our own moods often change as quickly as the mood on Notes does.

The aggressive, political industrial-rock of People moving into the soft orchestral of The End (Music For Cars) is jarring on the first and even second listens, but becomes a palate cleanser of sorts on subsequent plays, and Having No Head at first seems anti-climactic after the emotional rollercoaster of Playing On My Mind, but eventually becomes a perfect semi-colon to pause and reflect on.

If you’re not enthused about instrumentals and ambient tracks, the album can feel bloated. Though it’s worth noting that said tracks are beautiful pieces of standalone music that are worth giving a chance, particularly The End (Music For Cars), an orchestral reimagining of early track HNSCC, and the meditative and electronic Having No Head.

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Something new for The 1975 is opening up to collaboration.

Aside from the inclusion of Cutty Ranks, Dirty Hit labelmate No Rome lends his talents to Tonight and FKA Twigs lends her operatic sensibilities to the introduction of If You’re Too Shy and is the voice behind the vocal sample that inspired the Justin Bieber What Do You Mean-esque What Should I Say?

Phoebe Bridgers features heavily across the album, most notably in Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America, a heartfelt and painful acoustic duet about same-sex attraction in situations where it is deemed shameful.

The tone of Bridgers’ vocals complement Healy’s perfectly and along with her perspective, elevates the song entirely. Her involvement in Then Because She Goes, Roadkill and Playing On My Mind are more subtle, but her harmonies make each track feel complete.

The most notable and unexpected collaboration on the album is with Healy’s father, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star Tim Healy on Don’t Worry, the first of two final emotional gut-punches that close the album.

Written by Tim during Matty’s childhood, the inclusion of the song on the album and the performance by the two is a wholesome and emotional father-son moment led by gentle piano.

It’s beautiful – though admittedly, the use of autotune on some of the vocals is questionable.

Guys, the album’s closing track, is a soft, mid-tempo love letter from Healy to his childhood friends and bandmates George Daniel, Ross McDonald and Adam Hann.

Its poignant sincerity hits extra hard at a time when so many of us have not been able to see loved ones for so long and is the band’s most explicitly nostalgic track.

Looking back on the album as a whole, it could be said that nostalgia is the true overarching theme of Notes.

The prominence of Garage, emo and shoegaze across the album evoke memories of growing up in the early 2000s, especially as titles like Bagsy Not In Net are so reminiscent of childhood and youth.

Crisp and precise production prevents it from feeling cheesy and dated.

To answer the initial question, The 1975 followed their most critically and commercially successful album yet by making an album they want to make, for their own enjoyment more than anything else.

Notes may not immediately reach the dizzying heights of A Brief Inquiry, but it stands apart as their most explorative, diverse and honest work to date. It is The 1975 in their most distilled, 1975-y form so far.

It’s hard to predict where they’ll go from here.

 

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