Five years ago, The 1975 were something close to a punchline. Adored by a certain demographic for being a “quirky” yet attractive band comprised exclusively of young men, they delivered a debut album's worth of obvious indie pop that triggered as many eye rolls as it did ticket sales.
It was, therefore, quite remarkable to see the complete 180 that a lot of the music press - myself included - did on the band upon the release of their excruciatingly titled yet expertly conceived and delivered sophomore album 'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it'. A 74-minute opus that was as self-aware as it was danceable, as endearing as it was unique, it was the perfect blend of indie and synth-pop, penetrating the market with the freshness of its content and the development of their frontman.
It was easy to throw them under the bus based on the debut; on the follow-up, they showed us that they were in on the joke.
It’s important to note that if you are looking for the best work that the band has done to this point, 2016’s effort is still the place to go. This new record (one of two promised over the next half-year or so) aims to strike a balance between the experimental progression that they have exercised brilliantly until this point and an unfortunate default setting that Healy in particular seems to have acquired that delivers acoustic ballads, the likes of which you have heard innumerable times before.
It’s vital to understand that the impact Matty Healy has on these records is nothing short of remarkable and, whilst this clearly has it’s pros and cons, for the most part on 'A Brief Inquiry…' he nails it. It may be a bit prejudicial to throw him into the same circle as Morrissey, Thom Yorke, Ian Curtis, and others, but to ignore the fact that he is probably the most impressive millennial frontman in the country right now is equally ill-advised.
Lyricism alone finds him a cut above almost all of his peers. From the brilliant wordplay of 'Give Yourself A Try' and its breathless verses to the sincerity and cadence of 'Be My Mistake' - a song that treads so carefully the line between sublime and cringe-worthy that they become almost indistinguishable - his performances remain the centre of the band’s universe, and long may this remain the case.
That being said, outside of most of the singles and the brief moment of all-encompassing brilliance - 'I Like America And America Likes Me', 'Inside Your Mind' - the album tracks on this album leave a lot more to be desired than was the case on its predecessor.
The lack of variety of instrumentation (most of these songs are the aforementioned forgettable acoustic ballads) leads to a lack of engagement from the listener. Recall being engrossed in the beauty of the intermissions on 'I like it when you sleep...' and contrast this with how distracted you can become during passages like 'Surrounded By Heads And Bodies' through to 'I Couldn’t Be More In Love' - it becomes clear through repeated listens that this is, overall, a lesser record.
That said, 'A Brief Enquiry...' certainly isn't a dud. The quality of the singles themselves from 'Give Yourself A Try' and its banshee-esque instrumentation to the weird mixture of electronic and trop-pop influences that drive 'TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME', or the wholesome 'Sincerity Is Scary' through to the atmospheric euphoria of 'Love It If We Made It' or 'It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)' that there is more than enough here to satisfy fans and newcomers alike ahead of what will (hopefully) be a much more complete offering early next year with 'Notes On A Conditional Form'.
Largely speaking, it’s fair to say that 'A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships' has been a success. It captures the de-sensitivity that a lot of us feel surrounding the content available to us on the web and projects it onto us to highlight all of our shortcomings. It’s romantic, existential, frantic, and disorganised, and that ultimately strange mix of tones, genres, and production all adds into a singular esthetic.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore its shortcomings, and it is all too easy to rue what might have been, as there are moments of brilliance here that are too often cut short by an unnecessary lull in artistic reinvention.
Words: Mike Watkins
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