We’re in a time where it’s very trendy to both sincerely hate and unapologetically love the 1975. Whether it be because of the eternally annoying first single “Chocolate”, their confusing mix of pure pop and grander pretensions, or simply frontman Matt Healy’s personality, the wheels are falling off the 1975 hate bandwagon with the sheer number of people following the train of uninformed public opinion.
Fittingly, that’s the general concept of A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the most defiantly 1975 album, the 1975 have released. The endless paradoxes are still in attendance but toned down and ironed out, capturing everything that’s good and not-as-good about them, while trying to push forward at the same time. This has led to some much-needed improvements; there are no “Karcrashian panache and a bag of bash for passion”-level lines here, and gone are the dragging instrumental tracks of their glowing second album, which we won’t name for time and space reasons. “How to Draw / Petrichor” is the only track in that vein on ABIIOR, and it’s the best they’ve ever done; the first half is all Bon Iver vocoder ambience, before diving into a beat that takes the unnerving glitchiness of Jon Hopkins and makes it unbelievably driving and romantic. If they made a whole album of these kinds of perfect hybrids, who could be mad at it?
The tunes are still absolutely massive, with the pop-punk of “Give Yourself A Try”, the wintry tropical bop of “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”, and the absolutely towering “Love It If We Made It”. The latter track should really come across as 2018’s answer to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, but it roots its windshield tour of modern anxieties and social issues in a sonic stateliness that becomes it as well as a genuinely relatable you-have-to-laugh brand of fear, from the opening lines “Fucking in a car, shooting heroin / Saying controversial things just for the hell of it”. “I Like America and America Likes Me” features Healy whining in AutoTune about guns and kids who want Supreme over a generic trap beat, but the circular structure as well as his repeated pleas of “would you please listen” make it strangely hypnotising, and “Inside Your Mind” is a stripped-back stadium ballad reminiscent of Coldplay’s “Fix You” by way of The Blue Mile. It’s beautiful.
“an ever-present mix of post-everything irony and supreme earnestness”
“I Couldn’t Be More In Love” is somewhat of a stroke of genius in that the band takes a subgenre of 80s ballad that is inherently cheesy and dated and somehow makes it less mawkish with a razor-edged vocal from Healy and that ever-present mix of post-everything irony and supreme earnestness. This is no more apparent than on “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”, a quintessentially swooning 1975 song and a love song to…heroin. This would be an eye-rolling concept if it weren’t for the utter sincerity of the production and the precise loveliness of lyrics like “collapse my veins wearing beautiful shoes / it’s not living if it’s not with you”. If some of the lyrics and concepts on this album are a bit “We Live In A Society”, they are vastly improved by effervescent sonic backings that would glow from any speaker. This is what makes “Sincerity Is Scary” such a step forward for the band, with a melancholy J Dilla-type swing and a plaintive lyric about putting up digital walls to avoid human connection. Healy has made a big thing of wanting to be less ironic on this album and it actually shows, the over-the-top wannabe smirking social commentator aspirations tamped down and more naturally embedded in the songs, encrusting the smooth pop perfection with a layer of self-awareness that is in itself self-aware.
“The 1975 use the currently most zeitgeisty sound as a foundation for a Corgan-adjacent carnival of creativity full of flashing lights and brilliantly outsized ego”
Many a column inch has been devoted to comparisons with Ok Computer — and even more comments decrying these comparisons — but if there is a comparison to be made it’s with The Smashing Pumpkins at their zenith. The 1975 use the currently most zeitgeisty sound as a foundation for a Corgan-adjacent carnival of creativity full of flashing lights and brilliantly outsized ego, with a visionary Marmite frontman who has a propensity for ridiculousness that still don’t undermine the wide and deep valley of ideas whirring harmoniously for your attention.
“The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme” is the natural successor to Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier”, with Siri narrating a cautionary tale about the “Evil Internet” placed over a gorgeous wide-eyed instrumental that should have been left alone. The only other Radiohead moment is the monumental closer “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”, a soaring Britpop rock song that could have been lifted from The Bends. The 1975 are completely their own thing, and if some elements of that thing could be considered underdeveloped or cringe, that only leaves an abundant menagerie of other things to love. If they deliver two for two with next year’s Notes on a Conditional Form, they can no longer be denied.