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“A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships”- Album Review

Photo Courtesy of GQ Archives

In the fall of 2016, I got to see The 1975 in concert at the Fox theater during their tour for their second album. It was a solid show with lead singer Matty Healy and company intertwining their old hits and new anthems into a performance that ultimately showcased their versatility as a rock band, pop group and occasionally a jazz quartet.

Healy was relaxed and confident, often addressing the audience directly, or embarking on pseudo-philosophical critiques of our tumultuous political climate or other topics I couldn’t quite distinguish being so far from the stage.

IN CONCERT AND INEBRIATED

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Somewhere in between his monologuing and erratic dancing, Healy had procured a bottle of wine and was taking large swigs from it in between songs. I thought it was odd but not uncharacteristic of the ecentric rock personality to enjoy a drink or two during his own concert. After the show, I learned that the bottle of wine during the later half of their concert was as much a part of Healy’s performance as his wild dancing style.

In an interview to the Guardian, Healy said, “I never used to really drink, but the bottle of wine on stage quickly became something to calm the nerves, and then part of the show.” If Healy needed a bottle of wine to get through a show every night, I wondered if he was doing as well as he’d like fans to believe.

Shortly before the release of their first single earlier this year, my question about Healy’s wellbeing was answered. After he admitted to a heroin addiction and subsequent relapse, it became clear that The 1975 frontman was definitely not well.

But after seven weeks in rehab, and a string of fresh singles teasing a new LP, The 1975 are back with an album that’s equally as inspired by Healy’s own demons as it is with the rest of the world’s problems.

Many of the themes and sounds on this record are the direct descendants of the genre bending music of their last album, but more developed and consequently more touching because of it.

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HARD ROCK, AND EVEN HARDER SOCIAL COMMENTARY

On Love Me, the lead single to the band’s previous album, Healy asks “Hey, would you like to look outside sometimes? I’m just with my friends online and there’s things we’d like to change.” This lyric seemed vague at the time, but Healy uses A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships to make all the things he’d “like to change perfectly clear,” augmenting the salient social commentary with personal self-reflection that’s just as eye-catching as it is eye roll worthy at times.

On the album’s lead single, “Love It If We Made It,” Healy fires off a list of pop cultural references, political happenings, and personal experiences, all erratically existing alongside one another, mimicking the way newsfeeds and social media haphazardly allows these events and experiences to coexist in one place.

The result is jarring and catchy as Healy’s bitingly Staccato delivery hits with the force of a thousand snare drums. Healy nimbly moves from topic to topic, addressing Kanye West, Donald Trump, the prison industrial system, the opioid epidemic, and even bored teens online.

THE SOFTER SIDE OF ROCK

On “Give Yourself A Try,” Healy offers his sage advice to twenty somethings with vinyl collections and coffee addictions over a manic techno instrumentation that sounds like an alarm going off to alert you that you’re probably wasting your twenties, and that’s okay. It’s a track that’s both sincere and comical, and addresses the potentially frightening prospect of growing older with a sense of humor and sympathy that many will find endearing but not cheesy.

One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Sincerity Is Scary is a jazzy,” is alaid back song that finds Healy lamenting the death of sincerity in our increasingly ironic culture. This track has some of the best and worst lyrics on the album with Healy spouting “Instead of calling me out, you should be pulling me in,” as a surface deep critique of internet culture.

But in the next line he asks “why would you believe you could control how your perceived when at your best you’re intermediately versed in your own feelings?”

It’s a sharply written lyric that highlights how Healy can occasionally deliver lyricism that’s insightful and impacting, like a swift punch in the gut.

HEALY’S DEMONS AND OUR DEMONS

In other areas of the record, the 1975 broach more personal subjects. The bright piano driven track, “It’s Not Living If (It’s Not With You)” gives Healy the chance to sonically address his anthropomorphized heroin addiction. The playful pop instrumentation contrasts the serious subject matter.“Collapse my veins wearing beautiful shoes, It’s not living if its not with you”, Healy sings, describing the obsessive allure of a dangerous drug habit.

The album clocks in at 15 tracks which is shorter than their 2016 album but still feels like it could have been shorter. A few tracks towards the middle of the album slow down its momentum, often forcing a press of the skip button.

“I Like America and America Likes Me” is the band’s take on trap music with an oddly existential lyricism. Healy’s autotuned voice screeching about his fear of death is an odd juxtaposition that I’m not sure works completely. Likewise, the tracks Inside My Mind and Be My Mistake are largely forgettable songs that sound like less compelling versions of songs from their last two albums.

THE BEGINNING IN THE END

However, The 1975 end the album on an emotionally resonant note with the tracks “I Couldn’t Be More In Love” and “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes).” The former sees Healy reflecting on a failed relationship in which he still felt love for the other person even after its conclusion. Healy shouts into some romantic void “What about these feelings I’ve got?”

The catchy and inexplicably uplifting I Always wanna Die (Sometimes) tackles the insurmountable sadness that comes from simply living and experiencing life, and always wanting to die (sometimes) because of it. It’s a relatable song that sees the band revive its older indie british rock sound and lends the album a sense of circularity and closure. The 1975 would “Love It If We Made It” but also acknowledges that “making it,” or surviving in the world also might mean wanting to die (sometimes).

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