The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

The band’s fourth studio album is an orchestral, gospel, autotuned, Motown-sampling leviathan...

The 1975’s long-awaited fourth full-length album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ is destined to be the soundtrack to a summer spent indoors. 

And it's the Zord of their discography — you can’t necessarily explain the 22-track album through any one portion of itself, just like you can’t explain what a Zord or Megazord is by only filling someone in on the history of the blue Power Ranger. But we might as well start somewhere, and the bridge of NOACF’s thirteenth track, ‘Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied’, encapsulates the ultra-powered, multi-dimensional superhero of an album.   

Autotune-pinched vocalist Matty Healy admits — over enough gospel harmonies and jazzy piano chords backing him to make Norah Jones and Kanye West collaborate —that he’s on the search for something more (“Get somewhere but don’t find it. I don’t find what I’m looking for”), which is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to breaking down this record. For one, The 1975 use the album to cement themselves as genre shapeshifters, so if Healy was looking for something musically or if any fans have been searching for something more from the musical four piece, they’ve likely found it here.

And whether Healy and crew (multi-instrumentalist George Daniel, guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald) intended it or not, ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ and its scattered lyrical themes on uncertainty come at a time where uncertainty is our new best friend, so hearing the leader of everyone’s favourite pop-punk band croon about it is only reassurance that we’re all in this one together. 

Throughout the project — which finds the group shuffling from digital orchestral interludes (‘Having No Head’), folky banjo ballads (‘Roadkill’), their go-to punk-pop anthems (‘If You’re Too Shy’) and tracks featuring harp-like licks which sound straight out of the Ocarina Of Time soundtrack (‘The End (Music For Cars)’) — The 1975 find themselves more experimental than they were on 2018’s ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ (as if that were even a possibility) and totally aware of the fact that they’re doing the absolute most here in terms of genre exploration. 

Later track ‘Yeah I Know’ is somewhat in the same toolbox as ‘Frail State Of Mind’ and finds the guys tailoring the record for a night out at the club, whenever that comes again, imagining life on mars and “fucking it up” with some inventive vocal layering and a crispy drum loop. Immediately following, ‘Then Because She Goes’ serves as a soft-rock slapper with Healy speaking what sounds like Simlish — likely thanks to his newfound desire to record a video game soundtrack. As fans have contested, he doesn’t need to speak words to sound good, but he actually does here (“Oh wake up, I love you”). 

‘Roadkill’, including a reference to Healy's “tucked up erection,” finds The 1975 dabbling in a bit more of folky playfulness. And following a few future Urban Outfitters playlist essentials and the irresistible ‘Me & You Together Song’, the guys kick off the album’s latter half with ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’, a mid-tempo Temptations-sampling ode to fucking up miserably, which harnesses the groviness of Otis Williams with a modern twist of ‘Just My Imagination’.

After a few more explosive electronic anecdotes (notably in ‘Bagsy Not In Net’), the guys wrap the record up with two heart-wrenching lullabies. ‘Don’t Worry’ features vocals from Healy’s father Tim as a tissue-worthy father/son duet on getting through challenging times, while closer ‘Guys’ is an ode to love and The 1975 itself (“The moment that we started a band was the best thing that ever happened”). 

‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ is lyrically playful and musically a step away from being confused for a compilation album of the best tracks this group has ever released. But that confusion is warranted. This is The 1975’s quarantine Megazord and they’re about to save the world again.


Words: Brenton Blanchet

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