The dream of emo is alive in The 1975. No, they’re not a band that makes music rooted in the 80’s DC hardcore scene, rather in the vein of Morrissey or Rainer Maria, the band wants to appreciate the beauty of the world and the glee of youth, but can’t bring themselves too. They’re happy and sad at the same time. They’re idealists who call their new love interest a few too many times on “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” then cry over a sappy guitar ballad. They use the internet enough to know what “Thank you Kanye, Very cool” means, but they’re also paranoid about what a dead man’s facebook means to him and the world.
“A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” is a ridiculous mess. It features a tantrum of fake soundcloud rap, Roy Hargrove’s (RIP) signature horn counterpoints alongside a gospel choir, and the dramatic drawling vocal delivery of Devon Welsh, but that’s what the internet is innit. Everything is a joke, but we’re all too anxious to talk to people outside. Everyone wants their hot takes to be taken seriously, but we also gave birth to poptimism.
Certainly a band that’s going to take an approach in this vein runs the risk of drowning in its own concept and forgetting about craft, so let’s set a few things straight. Matt Healy is a magnetic vocalist with range to cover a slew of different emotions all without losing his bolstering melodic style. There’s the desperate yelp of “Love it if We Made It,” the schmaltzy coo of “Mine,” and the pop punk bliss of “Give Yourself a Try.”
The band delves into a lot of different genres and they don’t take themselves super seriously, but they’re not doing gentrified styles that sound fake in the vein of Sublime or 21 Pilots. In other words, “Sincerity is Scary” isn’t showing up at church like they belong there a la Nick Jonas, rather it fits more into the lineage of respectful collaboration a la
Bowie or Talking Heads.
The other thing is the context of the album, the band is very into the “highest of highs vs. lowest of lows” dichotomy as tempos bounce between blazing and sluggish and moods dot the line between “can’t get out of bed” and “riding a roller-coaster.” “It’s Not Living if it’s not with you” is a pretty stark shift in gears that really bursts when you get there in the work–not to mention the fact that it’s about heroine addiction (“collapse my veins with the things that you do”). So, the band is able to maintain a specific aesthetic lens even though it might at first seem a bit overly scattershot.
Outside of “livin,'” the lyricism is hamfisted usually to a funny degree, but with a good amount of faceplants. There’s textbook type of stuff like “you make me hard/but she makes me weak” and more nuanced propositions like “Take something and then make it brand new/Try and do anything fourteen times.” “I found a gray hair one of these days/like context in a modern debate I just took it out” will maybe conjure some eye-rolls, but it’s harmlessly fun. “Inside Your Mind,” on the other hand, is more actively harmful. The lyric: “The back of your head is at the front of my mind/Soon I’ll crack it open just to see what’s inside your mind,” being firmly on the creepy side.
In terms of my listening experience, I feel like the songs are all well fleshed out and rife with emotion that I relate to, which is a change from their second album, which was overly ambitious, taking away from the power of singles like “She’s American.” There’s certainly a lot to them worth dissecting critically, however.
It’s an issue in music that so often we stake our support behind acts already on the fence of problematic–especially in the archetype of the white-male genius, but we’ve certainly seen critically-lauded acts like The 1975 before. Kanye’s biggest hit 10 years ago had the lyric “You can be my black Kate Moss tonight,” and now, 21 Grammys deep, we’re mad that his biggest single of the year was an absurdly gross horn-dog anthem, which we probably should have seen coming. Neutral Milk Hotel never came out with another album obviously, but maybe if the project was explored a little further we would’ve had to come to terms with the fact that one of the most famous cult albums ever is entirely comprised of borderline creepy notes to Anne Frank.
I’m not going to use the word genius and I’m not going to say that their artistic values aren’t flawed in a way that may lead to missteps in the future, but for now The 1975 are pretty damn good at speaking to millenials in a self aware way.