So what do you expect from The 1975?
Midway through “How to Draw / Petrichor” on the new 1975 album, the rhythm goes full on electronica. Nothing accessible but something shuffling, sliding and approximating the level of drum n bass or maybe even drill n bass you might here on a Richard D. James record. Presumably, this latter half is “Petrichor”. This is notable but it’s hard to say whether it’s positive or negative. It’s not clear what it is, really. The previous three tracks all seem more like experimental audio tracks than the kind of bright, anthemic stadium pop you might expect from The 1975. There’s heavy use of vocoders, autotune and misplaced robotic monologues which don’t really sustain interest. It’s not until you hit “Love It If We Made It” that you finally realize that yes, this is the 1975’s new 2018 record A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships.
Up to this point it doesn’t seem like their best work. It’s not even particularly interesting work. Let’s be honest, it feels like a bit of a hacked-together art project that if one is to be completely cynical sounds like it was designed to bolster the band’s artistic reputation. But that’s when “Be My Mistake” happens, a beautiful and melodic acoustic ballad, peppered with high pitched keys. They make sparing use of electronica on this track, choosing instead honesty and vulnerability. Matty Healy’s vocals are gentle and understated here for the first time in three records. It’s something special and a regrettable that they waited until track six to introduce it.
Similar experiments in styles, polyrhythms and unconventional song structure for a pop rock band are all over this record. One can imagine the band members sitting down and discussing the formation of this record by saying “if there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to play with—any ideas that you’ve been desperate to try but never had the opportunity—this is the record for it.” “Sincerity is Scary,” as an example, is something approximating an R&B gospel song complete with a choir layered over the chorus.
It’s tracks like opener “The 1975” and “I like America & America Likes Me” where things get a little weird. Migos are big right now and so is trap in general, but there’s just something odd about The 1975 engaging in a trap track with the same sort of falsetto pop melodies sung through a vocoder made famous by Imogen Heap’s “Hide & Seek.” If anything, it seems a little unnecessary, maybe even contrived.
This feels like a concept record and the concept is to stop being a pop rock band and try to be a little more Thom Yorke. “The Man Who Married a Robot” is a reading of a short story about a man who has sex with a robot. It leads into a dramatic, string-filled opus simply titled “Love Theme.” No part of either of these tracks has anything you can dance to or feel comfortable blasting in your car with a group of friends.
So what do you expect from The 1975? Chances are you’re not going to get it here. You’re going to need to find it on one of the previous records. And though there’s a wide range of interesting audio experiences on A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, there are only a small handful of needles in this particular pop rock haystack. Fans will probably love “Inside Your Mind” but when they encounter the slow, downtempo jazz—yes, jazz—of “Mine,” they’re going to balk. There are those who will celebrate the artistic ambition and wonder at the genius of such a diverse and challenging record and there are those who will simply wonder whether or not the band has completely jumped the shark.