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The music of The 1975 seems to define 2020

The 1975 is a constantly evolving maverick band. Their latest album is a sprawling but brilliant assembly of genre-defying songs

The 1975 won the British Album of the Year Award at the BRIT Awards, 2019.
The 1975 won the British Album of the Year Award at the BRIT Awards, 2019. (Photo: Getty Images)

On their latest album, Notes On A Conditional Form, The 1975, a British band, open with a track that features a monologue by the Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who calls for civil action against the relentless exploitation of the earth’s resources. The speech, recorded especially for the album, isn’t remarkable; nor does it stray from Thunberg’s well-known views about climate change and call for civil disobedience to fight carbon emission and other activities that may harm the environment. But it sets the tone for the album, a massive 22-track affair with songs so diverse in terms of genre and conception that it can seem, at least when you first listen to it, overwhelming.

The 1975 were formed in Cheshire (outside Manchester) in the early 2000s. A trio, led by frontman Matty (Matthew) Healy, The 1975 began by covering British punk songs but soon turned into a feisty experimental outfit unafraid of exploring new sounds and pushing what can be called the conventional boundaries of pop music. Their high-energy live performances and early singles quickly got good radio play and garnered fans, first in Britain and then the US and elsewhere. Notes On A Conditional Formis the band’s fourth LP and is supposed to be a sequel to their third, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018).

It’s one of those albums that requires repeated play before you can fully absorb the versatile and constantly transforming work of the band. After Thunberg’s speech on the opening track, the band takes off with a song titled People, a throwback to punk’s glorious years, raucous, with angry lyrics (Wake up, wake up, wake up/ It’s Monday morning and we’ve only got a thousand of them left/ Well, I know it feels pointless and you don’t have any money/ But we’re all just gonna try our fucking best/ Well, my generation wanna fuck Barack Obama/ Living in a sauna with legal marijuana). But then, abruptly, the mood changes: The third track is an instrumental symphonic interlude titled The End (Music For Cars). The track that follows is a synth-fuelled dance track, Frail State Of Mind, complete with auto-tuned vocals and an up-tempo beat.

That’s the way it goes. Notes On A Conditional Formkeeps you guessing where the band is going to take you next with its experiments: electronica; soft acoustic songs; glam-rock’s excesses…everything is packed into a single album. There’s an especially exquisite duet, Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America, on which Healy is joined by American indie singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers for a tender love song. And another track, If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know), is an upbeat pop extravaganza on which the guest vocalist is the singer and dancer FKA Twigs.

The band’s third album, A Brief Inquiry… was a similar assemblage but with Notes On A Conditional Form, The 1975 have raised their own bar higher and leapt over it. The trio has evolved so much that if you listen to their debut album from 2013, eponymously titled The 1975 (with the brilliant track Chocolate) after you listen to Notes, it might seem like a completely different band. On that debut album, the band offered a sophisticated fusion of synth-pop and rock, artfully crafted and immediately relatable. But by the time they got to their second album (I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It), they started breaking the mould. That second full-length was a taste of things to come: It gave a hint of the band’s penchant for experimenting and constantly changing its musical soundscape.

Notes On A Conditional Form can sound like an unusual concept album. One in which there are some among the 22 tracks that segue into the next seamlessly (like Thunberg’s monologue and the track, People, which follows it) but also others that seem like an odd assortment of songs that draw on disparate genres (a tender acoustic track that is followed by a nightclub-ready dance number). There is much introspection and self-examination too. Healy, a millennial in his early 30s, has been struggling with heroin addiction, which he has now reportedly kicked, and the lyrics in some of his songs deal with his own existential issues. In Sincerity Is Scary (from 2018’s A Brief Inquiry...), he sings: And why would you believe you could control how you’re perceived/ When at your best, you’re intermediately versed in your own feelings?

In 2020, which has been an extraordinary year thus far, the evolutionary aspect of The 1975 seems appropriate. For many of us, in self-imposed or other forms of isolation, reflection and introspection has meant that our thoughts and moods flit from one aspect of our lives to another—often in an unpredictable, unconnected way. The tonal changes in The 1975’s last couple of albums (particularly the latest one) seem to provide a soundtrack for that kind of thinking and mood changes.

Healy and the band have said that there could be a sequel to Notes On A Conditional Form, which itself is a sequel to A Brief Inquiry…, but it’s not certain how soon we will get to hear that. One thing seems certain though: This band will have morphed even more by then.


Five tracks by The 1975 to bookend this week

1. ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ from ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’

2. ‘The Birthday Party’ from ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’

3. ‘Me & You Together Song’ from ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’

4. ‘Chocolate’ from ‘The 1975’

5. ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ from ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’

First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.

Twitter - @sanjoynarayan

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