“This is a story about a lonely, lonely man. He lived in a lonely house, on a lonely street, in a lonely part of the world but, of course, he had the internet. The internet, as you know, is his friend. You could say, his best friend . . .”
These are lonely times. Even though people are seemingly permanently connected to each other online, the wiring is loose – leading to a potentially more lonely state than ever. That's the poignant lesson in The 1975's A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the band's third album which wanders through the various darkened states of isolation until it finds faint glimmers of light to reach out for.
The above quote is taken from The Man Who Married A Robot – Love Theme, a millennial version of the robotic Fitter Happier monologue from Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer. If the album's title isn't a dead giveaway, it deals with the thoroughly modern issue of leading a dual life online and offline, and how that can tap away at mental health.
Without romanticising them, the Mancunian indie-pop band takes issues such as drug addiction, disassociation and depression and dresses them up with spaced-out electronic beats, light piano, 1980s synths and deceptively jaunty melodies.
Opening with some heavy vocoder on The 1975 (a track reminiscent of that time Kanye West discovered Bon Iver and went hell for vocoder leather on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), the album properly kicks off with Give Yourself A Try. As much as this song tries to dissuade the listener from sticking around with its nasal, mock Death Cab for Cutie chorus, there's plenty to hold out for here; a sentiment that the impassioned Love It If We Made It pleas for.
“We’re f**king in a car, shooting heroin, saying controversial things just for the hell of it,” sings lead vocalist Matt Healy with a clawing desperation. As he spits out a list of a never-ending modern-day horrors, the song’s video shows footage of Eric Garner being held in a chokehold by a New York police officer, refugees fleeing Syria and the burning remains of Grenfell Tower. It all feels futile until the chorus softens with a call for finding a way to survive. “Yes, I’d love it if we made it.”
In a recent interview with Billboard, he refers to It's Not Living (If It's Not With You) as "the big heroin one", referring to his recovery from heroin addiction, and with its buoyantly cheerful beat, it's laced with the consuming nature of addiction: "Collapse my veins, wearing beautiful shoes, it's not living if it's not with you". Airy tracks such as How To Draw/Petrichor and Surrounded by Heads and Bodies act as experimental interludes between heavy topics, offering a little breathing space.
It's a considered move, especially when songs such as I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) suggests: "Sing the blues, there's no point in buying concrete shoes", as a melancholic tonic for perturbing thoughts.
In contrast, I Couldn't Be More in Love, a crooning 1980s ballad that would make Bryan Ferry proud, and Mine, an unconventional love song sung with the tiredness of a barman at last orders, both come with a bashful tenderness.
Produced by Healy and drummer George Daniel, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is a pained reflection of troubling and lonely times but through expressing their own isolation, they may have switched on a light for many others.