A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships: So good, The 1975 are infuriating

You have no idea how ready I was to destroy this record.

How for the self-proclaimed kings of the indieheads, came a short reply: “well I didn’t vote for you.” How for the self-righteous marketing stunts, came a callous categorization: “are we not too old for this shit yet?” How for the opening static warbles of the eponymous rehash, came a scream overwhelming in defiance of whatever vibe, vice or vicar Matt Healy prayed to before this go around. How for musical switchbacks between anti-hook garage art to slobbering radio spittle, came a cynical sneer—just who do The 1975 think they are, patronizing, repurposing, and parroting back to me my own self-doubt? How for the prophetic posing and messianic motions came a terse assessment: “U2 did it better already—four times over, no less.” How for the soapbox spill youth-power truisms and muddled millennial mottos, came an anti-cohort hmmph, an eye-roll reaction video, an shrug and sigh of ennui and an under-table phone peek, a bizarre-Daltreyian reflex: “ugh, my generation.”

Face like a cold-slate, the release of leading singles “Give Yourself a Try” and “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” was met with naught but derision, a vicious riposte: I Like It When You Sleep For You are so Beautiful yet so Unaware of It was a fluke—and there it did not stop; this is a band tailor-made for the college freshman, the upgrade from One Direction, the rebound from the Jonas Brothers, the cute boy from Philosophy 101 who listens to Radiohead and Bon Iver and Common and Lauryn Hill. The guy who uses “but I digress” and “mundane” far too often in any dull discussion. The guy who brought his record player to his dorm room and who obsesses over the quality of his stereo more than the quality of his papers. The guy who raises his hand at every question because he thinks he’s the only one with enough balls to ejaculate his opinion on any given topic, not realizing that they were in fact, rhetorical. The guy who hears her favourite 1975 hit and says “that song speaks to me.” God I hate that guy.

I hate him because he is me.

And for a whole week I hated myself for being unable to admit that Matt Healy, does in fact, speak to me like a particularly incisive mental health meme. I felt attacked—I still feel attacked—how does this decadent motherfucker know that my brain vacillates between extreme confidences to overwhelming vulnerabilities so fast it develops whiplash? How does he know that inside the shy boy lurks a lonely forum board observer on the cusp of flagellation? Intrapersonal or interpersonal it doesn’t matter. What matter is how he knows that we don’t know what we want; that we remain restless between commitments or casual sex. How does he understand that we have open-ended relationships because we’re so open to just end it? How does the 1975 get that the young millennial, man or woman, is a garden for some seriously fucked up shit to take root and grow before realizing that the soil is fertilized by Monsantos?

In short: how did he know that the floor actually is covered in goddamn lava?

Because that’s what we have here: a record that swipes right dangerously with all the genres across town. Alternative? Always have a good sense of humour. R&B? Has the best playlists. Jazz? Smart and has a nice sax. Electronic? Likes to get freaky with it. Folk? Knows the route by heart. All these genres shot their shot and strung themselves out on I Like It When You Sleep, just waiting for Matt Healy, Adam Hann (guitar), Ross MacDonald (bass), George Daniel (drums) and John Waugh (saxophone) to pick one of them. And on A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, they still wait for The 1975 to make up their goddamn minds for which one they want to pick, instead of staring at their matches like gormless idiots. Except The 1975 aren’t slack-jaw layabouts—they’re polyamorous, metrosexual and genre fluid. Committing to anyone means getting burned by everything else. No thank you. This record rocks modernism despite its catastrophic failures, and then puts that failure on display, curating a musical exposition of social mores all broken and mixed up by post-modern technologies. As Healy sings, “I’d love it if we made it,” keen eared listeners should get the sense that he sings of a world not made for today’s youth, but molded by the collective hangover of a party that was done before we even got here. With the line “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” post-satire news had cemented itself, so Healy is just letting it provide the meta-commentary via its own derisive hashtags and two line insult tweets, mocking the engines of our social discontent by simply quoting the bad faith conductors. The future is the now: a high-speed rail bent out of control, a climate forum touting the benefits of CO2. It shouldn’t be happening but it is; preen and pristine and a colossal fuck up.

And so without much else going for him, me, you, The 1975—we all just want to take a step back with an efficacious “fuck it,” and commit our small ones in peace: screwing each other. And so “Be My Mistake” rests at the metaphorical heart of this record, if only for to rip yours out, reinsert it, and then rip it out again. Our small relational mistakes have nothing on the greater approaching trainwrecks, but indicate and reflect a tired malaise at the blaring warning signs. And replete with singer-songwriterisms that include a soothing, fingerpicked guitar and cooing Healy lyrics, the cut doesn’t want you to cry, but it knows that you will—it’s the acoustic companion piece to “Somebody Else,” detailing the night when you actually find somebody else, your very own mistake, but still can’t stop imagining that somebody you knew, that image of naivety and hopefulness. The 1975 even include a gentle keyboard, twinkling in the background as a touching reminder of the last time the group tore out your heart and left it still-beating, strewn across the showroom floor like a petal plucked from a dandelion. How kind.

But these foppish U2 by Bon Iver lads don’t let listeners rest their laurels, not just yet—the record takes a moment to gather itself back into a rhythm after The 1975 threw listeners to the sobering concrete, and then goes right back at it, continually punching above its lyrical and musical weight on “Sincerity is Scary.” Healy, now at the piano, decries the paranoiac reflex to avoid smitten pillow talk or deep reflection, Ross MacDonald donates a bass thump of a stomach fallen, George Daniel plays Renaissance man behind the kit, the horn-like synths, back-up vocals and that ever-twinkling keyboard and then, feeling something was still missing, throw a gospel choir behind the chorus. And that’s still an incomplete list of all the elements in the cut, but that’s because of the all the tracks on this record this might have been the one where the finally bit off more than they could master. Still, punching above their weight, The 1975 were bound to cop a smack back to reality.

And yet they still don’t take the punches as a no and they don’t take no for an answer—Andrew Hann just decides he needs to make his guitar a little more noticed, George Daniel decides the drum machine just needs to tick that little bit harder, and Healy just wants to play with his new vocoder on “I Like America & America Likes Me.” The ambient synthesizers pulled from the more hypnagogic parts of I Like It When You Sleep only serve as that bloody kitchen sink, that never say die attitude, collaging together pieces with a manic Basquiat or Dubuffet proclivity for color, and then switching to austere Calder-like self-image of cold robotic love on “The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme,” a track replete with pitter-patter piano notes, whistling and burring synthesizers and then lightly stirring strings. A Brian Eno-like effort of music made for the modern art museum. These two paired cuts encapsulates an artist vacillate, caught between vomiting hues and tints across a canvas and then crafting peaceful carousels and mobiles. Both serve to stop everything and demand appreciation, but from vastly different angles. On “Inside Your Mind,” they continue the austere piano-rock mobile; on “It’s Not Living (If it’s Not With You)” they again explode with colorful musicality.

And so ends the magnificent seven of this record, the main exposition. Everything else is part of the regular gallery, from the par-for-the-course opening four tableaux, to the ending tetrarchy of Healy-focused pieces, it’s all rather standard 1975 fare. And pithy lyrical cohesiveness aside, the main floor is awash with a decidedly mish-mash modal direction. No delineated sections, just new pieces around every corner with hardly a plaque to explain who or what inspired it, when it found life, why it even exists. The draining effect leaves this record nominally below its predecessor. It’s a beautiful, moving mess, but a mess nonetheless. But then again, I Like It When You Sleep too, delved in chaos with reckless abandon. So what gives, why is it that the preceding muddle receive marks of praise and this newly released cluster of cuts has marks taken away? Because I Like It When You Sleep is their Rumours—it’s meant to be a messy affair—A Brief Inquiry however, attempts something more and unfortunately, the musical mish-mosh holds it back in that regard. Still, it cannot be understated that this record by no right was supposed to be as good as it is, even if it is no OK Computer millennial edition.

That it convinced me to put down the torch and save myself from burning the proverbial museum to the damn ground just proves how powerful Healy, Hann, MacDonald and Daniel’s Art Brut and Dada-esque songwriting instincts are and how much benefit of the doubt they really do deserve.

Album Artist: The 1975
Producer: George Daniel, Matt Healy
Label: Dirty Hit, Polydor
Genre: Art Rock, Electropop

Tracklist:

1. “The 1975”
2. “Give Yourself a Try”
3. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”
4. “How to Draw/Petrichor”
5. “Love It If We Made It”
6. “Be My Mistake”
7. “Sincerity is Scary”
8. “I Like America & America Likes Me”
9. “The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme”
10. “Inside Your Mind”
11. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”
12. “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies”
13. “Mine”
14. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love”
15. “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”