I’m not even going to snark about the title of The 1975’s sophomore album. Yes, it’s obnoxiously wordy, but it came from a place of tenderness and was chosen by frontman Matty Healy in a moment of conviction – isn’t that what you want from a band?
The 1975 combines sophisticated musical production with blatantly self-aware lyrics. The mixture of the two is not always the case in today’s pop landscape, which is what makes this album – and this band – so sensational. This album is sonically erratic, and beautifully so. It’s a distillation of their debut album, delving deeper into their own multidimensional sound, characterized by intricate detail. It is full of existential questions, playful pretensions, and complete unpredictability.
The first track, “The 1975,” is the same leading song on their debut album, but re-imagined in a way that introduces us to what this new era will be. Some may find it odd that the band would use the same song again, but it’s like a reassurance to fans that this is still The 1975. This is a band that is conscious of the artistic decisions they make, and it’s not likely that they just threw the song on there to be ironic.
“Love Me,” the first single from the album, has the potential to be a game-changer. Not just for The 1975, but for what this generation knows as pop music. They are redefining what it means to be a pop band. And while we already know they can produce catchy tunes with slick guitar riffs, “Love Me” is something entirely new. It is ostentatious and smart in a way that pop music typically isn’t anymore. This song is the direct descendant of the iconic “Fame” by the late great David Bowie, remarking on the current state of the modern pop world and its inhabitants. It is bold in the way that it blatantly calls out pop stars and fans alike by claiming that “We’ve just come to represent a decline in the standards of what we accept.” It addresses the utter lack of substance that is often praised in pop culture with the line, “You’ve got a beautiful face but got nothing to say.” I can’t decide if the song is cynical, satirical, or simply observant, but regardless it’s one that I believe has much more to offer than anything else you’ll hear when you turn on the radio.
What would a 1975 record be without casual reference to cocaine? The third song on the album, “UGH!” is seriously wonderful – definitely one of the album’s frontrunners as being the absolute catchiest banger. Sporadic and clever, it portrays Matty’s relationship with drugs in a way that only The 1975 can. The title itself should give you a little hint about how weird the song is, but somehow it works. It is bright and hectic and raw, unadulterated pop at its finest.
“A Change Of Heart” is the aftermath of a relationship that seemed to take its toll. Matty muses on specific details that depict the shallow, inconsistent nature of the relationship between two dysfunctional people that ended up falling apart. This song is an interesting moment in the album because it sounds like a sweet ballad, but it has a very cold undertone. It also serves as a subtle nod at the band’s debut album, with lines like, “I never found love in the city,” and, “this is how it starts.” Probably the most bittersweet allusion to the first record is in the lyric, “You used to have a face straight out of a magazine / Now you just look like anyone / I just had a change of heart.” It’s not sung with a longing or desire to have back what was lost, but rather a mere acceptance that things have changed – fans can read between the lines of that if they wish. It’s also worth adding that Ross’s backing vocals on this one are especially lovely.
“She’s American,” (AKA “Settle Down 2.0”), can be added to the list of The 1975’s undeniably catchy pop songs. Complete with INXS-esque guitar riffs and a flirty sound that’s not uncommon for the band’s more upbeat songs, “She’s American” talks about a girl who simultaneously romanticizes and condescends stereotypical aspects of a Brit – in this case, Matty. The lines, “If she likes it ‘cause we just don’t eat and we’re so intelligent,” and, “If she says I gotta fix my teeth,” are delivered with biting mockery of an empty-headed admirer. You can practically hear Matty rolling his eyes as he sings.
Up next is a song that literally made my jaw drop upon first listen. “If I Believe You” might be the most outstanding track on the record, if for no other reason than the fact that it is so gut-wrenchingly real. Show me another pop band, especially in the position that this one is, who has the brass and the conviction to write a six-and-a-half minute song about struggling with the idea of God’s existence. “If I Believe You” is a smooth, ethereal, and fascinatingly introspective look into Matty’s search for truth with a capital T. The song begins with him candidly expressing his doubts and anxieties, and the chorus – utilizing a gospel choir, no less – is where he genuinely asks Jesus to show himself if he’s really there. Eventually by the end of the song, after apparently no response from the Holy One, Matty instead turns to the existential question of finding himself rather than a divine being.
The seventh track on the album, and the first of two instrumental pieces, is “Please Be Naked.” Contrary to what the title might suggest, it is not terribly exciting or sexy. The piano-led ballad is both sweet and somber. Amid the same simple piano notes are waves of sparkling sounds that ebb and swell throughout the almost four-and-a-half minute song. It’s quite peaceful.
”Lostmyhead” is a refreshing addition to the album for fans of The 1975 that have been around since the early days. The song itself seems like a continuation of an EP title track, “Facedown,” which leaves off with the lyrics, “I’ve lost my head, can you see it?” There is similar instrumentation and production, only “Lostmyhead” builds upon itself and ascends to dreamy heights before swirling back down to earth to throw us headfirst into the next track, which is a big one.
Track nine, “The Ballad Of Me And My Brain” – the theme of Matty’s mental state is carried over into what is one of the strangest and most earnest and intriguing songs on the album. In it he is frantically running around searching for his own brain, pausing to sign an autograph for a woman’s daughter who adores him, but the mother thinks he’s shit. That bit seems like the most blunt depiction possible of Matty’s chaotic state of mind as he was feeling the effects of his role as “Matty Healy, flamboyant frontman of The 1975.” The last lyric in the song says, “Forget my brain, remember my name,” which is a sad commentary in itself about how vapid the celebrity-obsessed side of pop culture is.
The next song is a beautiful, beat-driven ballad where Matty croons about the shame and jealousy that live in the shadows of a dying relationship. “Somebody Else” is without a doubt one of the standouts on the album because it has all the elements that make a fantastic 1975 tune – layers of sonic texture, synth-y grooves, and Matty’s unapologetically self-aware candor.
“Loving Someone” is the one that’s gonna be the anthem for the kids. Lyrically, it is the strongest on the record, with Matty racing to keep up with himself as he spits out a pretty brilliant social commentary about how pop culture is a commercial scheme selling sex, which lacks integrity and and promotes “the status quo.” The song suggests that instead of this, we should be loving someone. It’s a simple idea wrapped up in observations about the human condition that, again, you don’t see expressed in mainstream pop music. This is one that you might have to sit down with the album booklet to read along with the words at first, but it’s so worth it. And props to George for engineering the unique sound that pairs with Matty’s equally unconventional vernacular.
The second predominately instrumental song on the album, and ringing in at nearly six and a half minutes, is the title track, “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.” The song gleams and rattles around before it shatters into different directions and turns into an almost electro-dance remix of itself.
“The Sound,” the second released single, brings us back to the upbeat environment that kicked off the album. It’s definitely an earworm – once it’s in your head it’s hard to get it out. When performed live it has a celebratory feel, and Matty makes sure everybody’s jumping. The whole thing is polished off with an exuberant guitar solo from Hann.
The last gasp of anything remotely upbeat on the album, “This Must Be My Dream” is a glittering tune with an airy melody that just drips with John Hughes film vibes from start to finish. It starts with a glimmer of hope from this girl who has put Matty’s heart under arrest, but of course that doesn’t last. “Well I thought it was love but I guess I must be dreaming” is the dismal conclusion to the story, but the song itself maintains a light and sugary-sweet aura all throughout. A rich saxophone solo is the cherry on top of this one.
Track fifteen, “Paris,” is actually quite dark, but it’s got this mellowed out softness and slick beat behind it, so you’re not immediately keen on the heaviness of the subject matter. The lyrics describe a girl on whom drugs are taking their toll, and Matty, who apparently can’t keep his dick in his pants (“I’ve got two left feet and I’m starting to cheat on my girlfriend again”). The dialogue is hazy – at one point they’re at a party where “the crowd cheered for an overdose.” After each narcotics-laden verse, Matty wistfully hums about wanting to go to Paris again, which, like the rest of the song, has a sense of vagueness about it. Perhaps Paris is the city where things happened that inspired the song, or maybe it’s a quote from one of these empty people at the parties he describes who are wishing for a place other than the one they’re in.
You might want to make sure you have some tissues handy before you finish the album. The next song, “Nana,” is a heartfelt ode to Matty’s grandmother who passed away. In it he imagines what he’d tell her if she were to walk into the room, and shares a few details that he misses about her. He returns to his doubt of a heavenly being when he says, “I know that God doesn’t exist, and all the palaver surrounding it / But I like to think you hear me sometimes.” The very last line in the song, “I think you can tell, I haven’t been doing too well,” is delivered in the most heartbreaking tone imaginable. So, yeah, good luck with this one.
The final and seventeenth track is called “She Lays Down,” where Matty softly sings about his mother’s struggle with depression. It’s the only completely acoustic song on the album, and its very inclusion just goes to show how little The 1975 care about playing by any rules when it comes to their art. How did an acoustic song of this emotional caliber and raw honesty wind up on the same record as “She’s American” and “The Sound”? It’s because The 1975 are a band of conviction, and I believe that they’re truly genuine in what they do. They’ve proved that in the past and especially with this album, which I think is a wonderful representation of what pop music can be.
by Kelsey Baucom