With 2018’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, the 1975 became one of the most important bands ever—at least, if you write for NME. In a five-star review, the infamously sensationalist British publication deemed the 1975’s third album “the millennial answer to OK Computer,” offering a sober reflection on “the march of technology, information and social media.” Even by NME’s standards, this was a reach, especially since there’s another mid-‘90s British classic that would’ve made for a better comparison: As a poppy and snarky treatise on modern life, it was to the internet generation what Blur’s Parklife was to the Britpop generation. That makes the 1975’s newest record, Notes on a Conditional Form, their The Great Escape—a messy and overstuffed pop odyssey that will only reaffirm how you feel about this band, whether you love them or you hate them.

NOACF starts, as all of the 1975’s albums have, with a song titled “The 1975.” Until now, the lyrics to the song have remained the same—a cheeky tale of oral sex in a car—while the instrumental serves as a musical teaser of what’s to follow on the album, be it neon new wave or synthesized pop. Here, “The 1975” takes the form of a speech from teenage activist Greta Thunberg, foretelling climate catastrophe over ambient piano tones. It’s a thematic wake-up call, followed by a literal one in the form of “People,” an industrial rock thrasher that sounds (and looks) like a Marilyn Manson track. It also feels like the dark counterpart to the 1975’s masterpiece, “Love It If We Made It,” its squall of political and cultural references taking the form of a panic attack rather than a rallying cry.

“People” is a clear standout on NOACF, but it’s also a stylistic red herring, far and away the heaviest track on the record. For the bulk of its runtime, the album is much moodier, following ABIIOR further down its electronic rabbit hole by drawing on British developments in garage and dubstep. “Frail State of Mind” provides a comedown after “People,” with vocalist Matty Healy cooing about his social anxiety (“I’ll just leave/ I’ll save you time/ I’m sorry ‘bout my frail state of mind”) over skittering percussion and icy synthesizers. The whirs and clicks return on late-album highlights “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” and “Shiny Collarbone” (the latter features vocals from Jamaican dancehall veteran Cutty Ranks), as well as “Having No Head,” a six-minute bliss-out that almost rivals Burial and Jamie xx in its dynamic, immersive pulse.

This is the third 1975 album that has been primarily produced by Healy and drummer George Daniel, but it’s the first to really position the duo as the band’s creative engine. While all four band members have been credited as songwriters on previous releases, NOACF’s liner notes suggest that they were the primary composers and musicians this time around. (Guitarist Adam Hann and bassist Ross MacDonald appear on fewer than half of the tracks.) As such, the album noticeably feels like less of a full-band effort, and while some longtime fans may miss that, they’ll take comfort in knowing that the songs on which all four members do appear are uniformly excellent. The warm waves of guitar on “Then Because She Goes” and “Me & You Together Song” recall late-‘90s/early-‘00s emo pop groups like Jimmy Eat World and Yellowcard at their most melodic. “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” on the other hand, sounds like a classic 1975 song, from its tart synthesizer to Hann’s shimmering guitar chords to Healy’s tantalizing lyrics (about crushing on a “girl on the screen,” natch) to the climactic saxophone solo. Seamlessly bridging the pop and post-punk sides of the band’s ‘80s influences, it already feels like one of their best songs.

But as you’d expect from an 80-minute album, NOACF is too diverse, too much for its own good. “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” an acoustic duet with Phoebe Bridgers, is a much better song than its awful title suggests, though it, “Playing on My Mind” and the countrified “Roadkill” all feel like they were salvaged from an entirely different project. Ditto for “The End (Music for Cars)” and “Streaming,” two orchestral interludes that are pleasant but skippable; between them and the tracks where it feels like Healy and Daniel are just dicking around with electronics, there’s about 20 minutes that could be trimmed from the record. Just looking at NOACF’s track listing—22 songs long—is enough to make your eyeballs spin, or make you hate streaming services for enticing artists to cram their albums with as many tunes as will fit.

But that’s admittedly a cynical way of reading into NOACF’s indulgent sprawl, and though Healy can be called many things, “cynical” has never been one of them. He and his bandmates just don’t seem like the type to pad out an album so as to juice the streaming revenue: they do it because there’s so much they want to do—so much Healy wants to say—and they do it with sincerity, even if it is scary. They care about the music they make, and they care about each other. The record’s closer, “Guys,” is an affecting love song played by the very people it’s about: “The moment that we started a band/ Was the best thing that ever happened/ And I wish that we could do it again,” Healy sings, reminiscing about the times he and his bandmates all shared a flat or played their first gig in Japan. In a moment when it feels like the end of the world is upon us—if the pandemic doesn’t kill us all, then climate change will, unless the police do it first—it’s reassuring to see someone as passionate about anything as the 1975 are about music, and that they’re generous enough to share it with us. We’ll take as much as they’re willing to give us.

A messy and overstuffed pop odyssey that will only reaffirm how you feel about The 1975, whether you love them or you hate them.
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