The 1975 formed as a high school band in Wilmslow, Cheshire, where a council worker organised frequent gigs for teenagers. Vocalist and guitarist Matty Healy, the son of prominent actors, was joined by guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald, and drummer George Daniel. The quartet cycled through a vast number of potential names before settling on The 1975; previous ideas included Me; and You Versus Them, Forever Drawing Six, and Bigsleep.
Building on a series of EPs, The 1975’s 2013 debut album was an immediate success, topping the UK charts. Their popularity, especially with teenage girls, was a red flag for critics. They were difficult to pigeonhole; with their references to sex and drugs, The 1975 espoused rock and roll, but their funky guitar rock was laden with pop hooks and had a radio-friendly sheen, recalling critically reviled acts like INXS. The pretentiously named I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It ran for a bloated 73 minutes and the group emphasised 1980s sounds.
The 1975’s pop-tinged sound and unconventionally paced albums disguise the fact that they’re the most vital rock bands of their era. Healy’s a wonderful frontman, charismatic and with a chameleon voice that allows the band to play almost any genre convincingly. The band’s other key member is George Daniel, whose production skills unite the band’s diversity. Healy categorises The 1975 as “a post-modern pop band that references a million things. I don’t even know what my band is half the time.”
The 1975 Album Reviews
The Japanese House: Good at Falling
The 1975 primed their career with a series of EPs, before their successful debut album. In 2012, Healy stated that “I think the best albums are ones where every track could be a potential single,” and The 1975 largely lives up to this promise, stacked with tuneful, energetic songs. The group were heading towards their mid-twenties when The 1975 was released, but the songs often fondly recall adolescent hi-jinks – Healy explained that ‘Chocolate’ is “a love letter to the authority figures in our town – you know about small-town boredom, both by the kids and by the police.”
The 1975 is less eclectic than their later work, focusing on funky guitar pop like ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Settle Down’. Healy’s lyrics are sharp, like this couplet from ‘Girls’; “I know you’re looking for salvation in the secular age/But girl I’m not your savior.” There are prominent synthesizers on some tracks and ‘Talk!’ in particular shows a strong 1980s influence. The most striking stylistic deviation is the piano and vocal closer, ‘Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You’.
The 1975 is a tuneful debut, and it’s the group’s most uptempo energetic record to date, if also their most limited stylistically.
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
The 1975 largely concentrated on the uptempo, funky guitar pop. Its sequel, I Like It When You Sleep…, goes everywhere, from a My Bloody Valentine homage to the soul of ‘If I Believe You’. At a sprawling 73 minutes and 17 tracks, I Like It When You Sleep… has been criticised for its over-length, but there’s a lot of brilliant music here. The 1975 make albums differently than most artists – they utilise instrumental introductions and interludes – but their distinctive production aesthetic unifies the disparate material into an enticing whole.
Like the great double albums, there are so many excellent tracks that different ones stand out each time. Songs like ‘The Sound’, ‘Love Me’, and ‘She’s American’ recall the funky pop/rock of their debut. The group are also excellent at low-key, intimate material – ‘A Change of Heart’, ‘Paris’, and ‘Nana’ are all pretty and acoustic. Then there’s the diversity – ‘This Must Be My Dream’ could have come from a 1980s John Hughes movie, complete with a saxophone solo, ‘Lostmyhead’ recalls My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, while ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain’ is both introspective and frenzied.
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It has an unwieldy title but it’s one of the best records of the decade, a talented group showing they’re far more than a one trick pony.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Matty Healy spent two months of 2017 in rehab, a great opportunity for songwriting. When A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships emerged, it largely continued the excellence and eclecticism of its predecessor – it consolidates the band’s strengths into a more succinct record. A Brief Inquiry has been referred to as the millennial OK Computer – one obvious reason is the presence of ‘The Man Who Married a Robot’, a parallel to ‘Fitter Happier’. Like ‘Fitter Happier’, it’s effective at clearly communicating the album’s themes while also disrupting its momentum.
The propulsive ‘Love It If We Made It’ was composed as a Blue Nile-inspired instrumental by Daniel back in 2015, and Healy wrote lyrics to parallel Prince’s ‘Sign o’ the Times’, discussing contemporary events. ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ is the most forthright in discussing Healy’s heroin addiction, while ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ is another 1980s anthem. Healy’s voice is treated on ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’, with the group at their most synthetic, while ‘Sincerity is Scary’ is another big, memorable chorus.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships has the tough job of following a masterpiece. Admirably, it succeeds without drastically changing The 1975’s approach.
Notes on a Conditional Form
Usually, bands produce their best work when they make tight, 40-minute albums. The 1975 break that rule – their weakest album to date is their shortest, their debut where they largely stick to INXS-inspired guitar pop. On the contrary, their best albums – 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It and this one – sprawl out and explore many ideas. Notes on a Conditional Form is their most diverse album yet – the jarring transition from the ambient ‘The 1975’ to the hardcore punk of ‘People’ in the first two tracks is merely the beginning. The two songs form an effective protest – a Greta Thunberg monologue on climate change is followed by the anguished millennial apathy of ‘People’.
Previously, there’s been a strong 1980s aesthetic in The 1975’s work, but here it’s only present in the glorious anthem ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’. Instead, the band are largely raiding the 1990s – ‘There Because She Goes’ perfectly captures early 1990s shoegaze, there’s a little bit of Oasis in Healy’s vocal on ‘Me & You Together Song’, while ‘Playing On My Mind’ is angsty acoustic pop. Phoebe Bridgers sings a verse on the conservative-baiting ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’, there’s a house/gospel hybrid on ‘Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied’, and electronica on ‘Shiny Collarbone’. Even though the occasional instrumental meanders, Notes is always able to pull listeners straight back with memorable tunes like the closing ‘Guys’, Healy’s tributes to his band-mates.
They’re often underappreciated by music nerds, but The 1975 demand respect with their sheer ambition – an eighty-minute album with few weak spots is a towering achievement.
Being Funny in a Foreign Language
The 1975’s fifth album scales back their ambition markedly. After the extreme eclecticism of Notes on a Conditional Form, Being Funny in a Foreign Language is a tightly focused album, a mere 11 tracks and 43 minutes. Healy described Being Funny to Pitchfork as “Instead of a magnum opus, what about more like a polaroid?” The band started writing with producer BJ Burton, known for his work with Low and Bon Iver but eventually worked with Jack Antonoff.
The record’s gentler and less diverse than usual, but there are outliers. It leads off with the piano and strings of ‘The 1975’ – more a fully-fledged song than an interlude. The lead single ‘Part of the Band’ is folky and acoustic, augmented by string stabs. My pick for the strongest song is the funky ‘Happiness’, but gentle tracks like ‘Oh Caroline’ and ‘When We Are Together’ dominate the album’s tone.
With its more digestible length, Being Funny is likely to emerge as the band’s most acclaimed album, even though hardcore fans will probably gravitate toward their more ambitious efforts.
Ten Best Songs by The 1975
Love It If We Made It
If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
Part of the Band
Me & You Together Song
The Japanese House
Good At Falling
Amber Bain’s big break came in 2012 when she was introduced to The 1975’s Matt Healy. Still a teenager, she was signed to the band’s label and attracted attention with her mysterious first releases. Her voice is androgynous and the name The Japanese House gave few clues to her identity; Healy described her as “some weird post-apocalyptic Alison Moyet”. After four EPs since 2015, her debut album Good At Falling largely consists of new material.
With The 1975’s George Daniel involved in production, comparisons are inevitable. The Japanese House inhabit the same electro-pop territory that The 1975 often mine, but while Healy is all rock-star charisma, Bain’s songs are often low-key and resigned.
The record starts strongly with ‘Went To Meet Her’, an intro track that opens out into ‘Maybe You’re The Reason’. The latter is a great pop song, underpinned by a delightful guitar hook. The production is gorgeous, with Bain’s multi-tracked vocals sounding gorgeous over the classy synth-pop backing.
The rest of Good At Falling is often more restrained. ‘You Seemed So Happy’ recalls Stevie Nicks’ vocal in Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ when Bain glides up to the high notes. ‘We Talk All The Time’ is laconic about a failing relationship – “We don’t touch anymore/But we talk all the time so it’s fine/Can somebody tell me what I want?/’Cause I keep changing my mind.”
George Daniel is a brilliant producer, and it’s fun hearing his ideas applied to a vocalist whose introspection is the polar opposite of Matt Healy’s brash rock star persona.
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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