The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form review – passionate if indulgent work pushes boundaries
Notes on a Conditional Form
To their naysayers, The 1975 are just another indie landfill band with a pretentious frontman masquerading as a virtue-signalling pseudointellectual (as all the great rock frontmen and women are, you might argue). In fairness, they’ve brought some of that contempt upon themselves: the title of 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It caused listeners everywhere to claw at their face while groaning “notions”. (The album itself was rather good.)
Despite that, Matty Healy and his bandmates have proven their worth as makers of interesting rock music, pushing the boundaries of what a guitar band ought to be able to get away with across their three albums. Their lengthy fourth record treads a similar path between “catchy tunes” and “exasperatingly affected”, but largely falls on the right side of that tenuous debate.
How many rock albums, for example, open with Greta Thunberg performing a monologue about our collective responsibility to the planet? FKA Twigs also lends her voice to two songs, Phoebe Bridgers enhances Healy’s gentle patter on Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America, while his father, actor Tim Healy, duets on Don’t Worry – a sweet tune that he penned when Matty was a youngster.
Despite the numerous guests, this is very much Healy’s personal confessional. He is admirably, occasionally cringingly, upfront – be it his stream-of-consciousness narration on the likes of The Birthday Party, or proffering his heart to his bandmates on the sentimental Guys.
Musically, this is as out-there as anything The 1975 – or, indeed, any other mainstream guitar band – have attempted in recent memory. The tracklist swings giddily from the burbling garage rock of People to an orchestral interlude, before launching into the glitchy electronic patter of Frail State of Mind. They sweep through jaunty indiepop (The Birthday Party, Roadkill) and 1990s Britpop (Me & You Together Song), taking in power chords straight out of Huey Lewis’s songbook (If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)) and piano riffs from Billy Joel’s (Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied).
Every few songs are punctuated by a stylistic curveball; Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) succinctly incorporates a reggae-pop melody, but the effects-heavy Jamaican dancehall vibe of Shiny Collarbone sounds incongruous, an unnecessary bid to sound clever or versatile.
For all their passion and enthusiasm, there’s no question that this 80-minute album is far too long and somewhat self-indulgent. Still, you have to admire a band that are unafraid to take a risk; luckily for The 1975, it paid off – this time. The1975.com
Download: Frail State of Mind, Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied