Album Review: The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form
Online Music Editor Tom Bosher reviews The 1975’s new 22 track long project.
Notes on Notes on a Conditional Form
The 1975 album. It’s here. I’ve waited. You’ve waited.
God Matty knows we’ve waited. But it’s here. We’ve got 22 tracks to get through so let’s get straight to it. NOACF is in large part, a sonic experiment and as far as I’m concerned that’s what all artists should be striving for. Stagnation is death, and this album could not be further from slowing down. House beats and bass underlie a huge proportion of the tracks and with their flow carrying a strong current through the album, if you’re against it, you’re a salmon tied to a cinder block trying to swim upstream.
Whilst instrumentally we’ve seen some major changes, what’s stayed the same is the self-aware, sometimes self-sabotaging lyrical -I’m gonna say it- genius of Matty Healy. His ability for generational resonation, what it is to be young, it doesn’t just manifest in his meme taste on Instagram, although the album is definitely host to funniness unparalleled by any other project on tracks like ‘Roadkill’. Lines like “But I won’t get clothes online ’cause I get worried about the fit But that rule don’t apply concerning my relationships” on ‘Playing On My Mind’ paired with playful production like the James Taylor-ish style country guitar and harmonisation from Phoebe Bridgers produce another selection of half existential questions that mock themselves with self-aware humour. The lyrical depiction of the unstable hyper-energetic melting pot of confusion, frustration, cynicism and every other emotion that the planet incites reaches new heights. But of course, this isn’t just pushed, but jet-fuelled by the instrumentation that morphs and propels us throughout project. It has breadth, to the point of having several stray songs, undoubtedly due to the scattered construction of the album, with delays and manufacture during tour and in countless studios.
Despite being a jumble, it doesn’t lack tightness of production, with an aggressive flex of flexibility
I say stray, the 1975 haven’t by any means attempted to make a concise compact and final statement on humanity. They’re ‘notes’. It’s on the tin. I don’t know about you but the notes app on my phone could not be more of a jumble of shopping lists and random creative day-dream offshoots. This album is an eclectic self-aware assortment of songs that hit hard, interspersed with meandering interludes that teeter on the edge of fully-fledged tracks with their bold instrumentals. Despite being a jumble, it doesn’t lack tightness of production, with an aggressive flex of flexibility. There’s Jamaican Reggae sampled lyrics from DJ Cutty Ranks on ‘Shiny Collarbone’ with bare-bones percussion as though George is hitting a skeleton instead of a drum kit and a bass drop that makes your spine shiver as opposed to your collarbone. Then there’s ‘People’, with guitar shredding like it’s been through a blender and screams from Healy that make your own vocal chords hurt. This album doesn’t shy away from subverting expectation and I love that.
Sonically, the album rings through with the synths and fast paced drums of house and EDM style, the first hint we got even before the album: ‘Frail State of Mind’. A great little house-pop fused track, you’re hooked by the syncopated beat. Plucked violins of clarity followed by the heavy EDM breakdown is done seamlessly. Not to mention Healy’s description of the anxiety-bound bout of reluctance that can be provoked by going out is a warm and friendly reminder you can just stay at home and bash out this tune in the comfort of your pjs. ‘Yeah I know‘ hosts the first real thumping beat with an instrumental that crews the submarine tightly submerging your brain into distorted confusion with fairly barebone lyrics, some of which are pitched up and reversed. Short and sweet, they ‘hit it’ with one of the most successful implementations of the house style on the album. The bass is heavy and persistent throughout, and what it lacks in lyrical substance it makes up for in instrumentation. Another EDM belter punches with ‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know’, a thick instrumental digression in the middle swerves sounds round your head like a drunk-driver. It’s more of the really tight production we’re used to and I love it.
Favourite Tracks: ‘Nothing Revealed/ Everything Denied’, ‘Tonight I Wish I was Your Boy‘, ‘Don’t Worry‘, ‘Guys‘
‘Nothing Revealed/ Everything Denied’ hosts an intro that hooks me right in. There really is nothing like some jazzy piano. We get some lyrical comedy with references to early songs for the fans – he never actually f***** in a car. Sorry to burst your bubble. But damn, there’s gospel singers and all to make up for it. Fans of ‘Sincerity is scary’ ARE YOU LISTENING? This is GOLD. The lo-fi drums hit and everything fits into place. You get some pitched down rapped bars reminiscent of something Brockhampton might try that aid and abet the lyrical cracks.
What? Straight after? ANOTHER ONE?! I’d say DJ Khaled helped but he’s a total git. ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’ is fair to say probably my favourite track on the album. The intro gets you going with the pitched-up vocals and piano, and then. Sonic bliss. I said it. Side-chaining of the drums helps produce a sickeningly groovy, funk-fest drum-beat. Healy’s layered vocals paired with a fantastic chorus/hook. It’s smoother than Anchor butter – not sponsored.
‘Don’t Worry’ is a frankly Elton John level response to ‘She Lays Down’. It was originally written by Healy’s father for his wife (who had post-natal depression following Healy’s birth). His feature on the track aids the vibe of family love and hope, with an eerily resonant line to current times: “When you wake up and don’t know what day it is’. There are no house beats. Just a twinge of electric with layered vocals that melt over the simple piano chords. This is a beautiful song, plain and simple. They put me in a glass case of emotion, only to follow up with ‘Guys’ the last of the pre-released singles. I loved hearing this for the first time live at the O2. It’s a slow rock serenade that finishes off the album perfectly, and if you’ve been a long-term fan then I think you’d find it hard not to have some pretty wet eyes.
Least Favourite Tracks: ‘What Should I Say’, ‘Then Because She Goes‘
I’ve spewed, I don’t deny that. But as I said before, the album strays into such strange territory it’s bound to bring back something stale. ‘What Should I Say’ has some weird eery bells ringing through that just don’t quite hit the spot. It works as a marker of the haunting aspects of social media but it lacks the bitter-sweet touch that encourages rinse-and-repeat listening. A slightly awkward-sounding pitch shift and auto-tune on Healy’s voice doesn’t help matters. ‘Then Because She Goes‘ is another that doesn’t quite meet the standard, a classic rock ballad with lilting vocals paired with guitar. It’s not terrible, but it does feel a bit like a song someone who’s written off the 1975 for being a teenage girl band would expect.
I do like the instrumentals, but they inevitably clutter the album. ‘Bagsy Not In The Net’ is impressive filler, pulling off the apparent severe contradiction of house-infused violins. You can tell George is having a blast in the studio messing about on tracks like ‘Having No Head’, a dense tapestry of house sounds and synth. It was made for driving late at night in a car @Ryan Gosling. But I can’t drive, and I’m not here for George having fun, I’m here for me having fun. So quite like this review, the album is just a bit too long. With some pruning it would have been as masterful a project as ABIIOR. However, comparison is the thief of joy, and the band have tested themselves. Whether they passed or not is up to you, but the rainbow of flying genre-jumping colours is undeniable.