Buried under the excessive run time is a tight, concise pop-punk record.
In the 2013 video for the 1975’s excellent single “Girls,” the band tells the director before the song starts “This is all wrong. We’re not a pop band.” That winking bit of self-deprecation sums up everything there is to either love or hate about these four Manchester lads. On the one hand, they write some of the fizziest, most irresistible Britpop fluff to come stateside in quite some time. Despite any protestations to the contrary, they are very much a pop band, and they seem to revel in all of the screaming fangirl adoration their status brings. And yet, they also demand to be taken seriously, touting their albums as experimental, multi-genred and epic. Their songs tackle celebrity culture (“Love Me”) and addiction (“UGH!”), and it’s peppered with shout-outs to Kerouac and the Kardashians in equal measure. With the 1975, it’s nearly impossible to separate the sound from the noise.
This combination of preening overindulgence and sincere self-awareness reaches its apex on their hilariously and obnoxiously titled sophomore record, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. Surely the band knows how ridiculous that sounds, and yet, they used the name anyway. And even amidst that salutatory gesture of rock star excess, the title is a quaintly sweet sentiment. Ultimately, the band’s second effort finds them on much surer footing when they stick to what they can do consistently well – hooky, synth-and-sax pop-punk.
One of the strengths of the band’s self-titled debut was that it provided catchy numbers in ample supply. Save a few slow spots, the entire LP played like a hit parade in the making. Not so on I like it. The album begins excellently enough – proper opener “Love Me” is a deeply funky paean to modern celebrity culture, borrowing ably from both Bowie and Hutchence. Follow-up track “UGH!” chronicles one of frontman Matt Healy’s relapses over lithe, slippery guitar acrobatics and a generous supply of handclaps. Best of all is the genuinely funny and romantic “She’s American,” an ode to trans-continental and cross-cultural romance that rides an exuberant synth line and saxophone solo that’s so cheesy it becomes cool again.
The wheels begin to come off after the strong start. The record descends into a interminable second act characterized by overly long instrumental interludes (“Please Be Naked,” the title track), potentially good songs buried under an overdose of feedback (“Lostmyhead”) and one truly misfired attempt at a Bastille-esque rock/hip-hop hybrid (“Loving Someone.”) A few stirring ballads help to alleviate the tedium. “If I Believe You,” with its curious combination of trip-hop balladry and gospel interjections, is one of the album’s more successful experiments. Most poignant is “Somebody Else,” the tenth track and the album’s emotional centerpiece. The washing bed of synths gently grows and the drums thunder ever louder as Healy mourns his crumbling relationship, tracing his emotions from denial to jealously to abject misery. The 1975’s sincerity is one of their strengths – they should always trust that impulse. Sincerity normally isn’t cool, but if you convey it genuinely enough, it makes a real impact.
What’s most frustrating about I like it is that somewhere in here, buried under the gauzy interludes and excessive run time (74 minutes, oof) is a tight, concise pop-punk record. Take the record’s first six tracks, throw in “Somebody Else,” and tack on the two stellar late-album singles-in-waiting, the house-lite of “The Sound” and the anthemic “This Must Be My Dream.” Bookend those nine tracks with shimmering ballad “Paris” and you have an excellent sophomore follow-up that caters perfectly to the 1975’s strengths while also exhibiting their expanded stylistic palette. But that is not the album that the 1975 released. Instead, I like it is a respectable but bloated labor of love that gets in its own way nearly as often as it succeeds. Sometimes less is more.