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Album review: The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

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Led by an anti-social media campaign while contradictorily being run entirely online, The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is finally here.

Two and a half years since their second studio album, I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, Healy and the rest of The 1975 have re-emerged, armed with analysis on commercial success, rehab, and what social media is doing to humanity. 

A Brief Inquiry Cover

Image courtesy of The 1975 via Chuff Media

Opening with the familiar intro track of distorted spoken-word, the Manchester band's third album is nothing short of a cardinal statement. As debut album single 'Give Yourself A Try' knowingly homages Joy Divisions’ ‘Disorder’, the indie-pop zinger echoes Healy’s judgement from the outset. “I found a grey hair in one of my zoots / Like context in a modern debate I just took it out” he sings sardonically against an undeniably loud guitar loop. The severity and redundancy of tempo is aggressively upfront, yet in the greater context of The 1975, it fits perfectly as an unexpected rebirth.

Healy has always been contrary and unpredictable, as reprised on the bubblegum pop single ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’. On its release, it was clear that this was something we’d never heard from The 1975 before, yet some of their debut album’s best tracks – ‘M.O.N.E.Y’ and ‘Menswear’ – exhibit a similar style of electronica. With a tropical beat and catchy chorus, the band understand the power of radio-friendly pop, in the context of social media romance.

The second single ‘Love It If We Made It’ attempts to hold the zeitgeist of the world in its duration. As a vocalised observation on society and its endless fuckery, such excess could question four 20-somethings position on being so outspoken. Nonetheless, their argument is reasonable and subtly optimistic. ‘Love It If We Made It’ suggests there’s always a way to keep going despite drowning in the earth’s collective misery. Containing a run-through of affairs including police brutality through systemic racism, the plastic crisis, deaths of refugees, Lil Peep being gone too soon and the unlikely bond between president Donald Trump and Kanye West via Twitter, the track is as passionate as it is anthemic.

‘Be My Mistake’ and ‘Sincerity is Scary’ are a tender duo. The first dabbles in themes of guilt against a sparse, acoustic arrangement, while the latter oozes laidback jazz-pop. A light keyboard and a soft drum beat make for a pleasant shift whilst a gospel choir singalong reminiscent of ‘If I Believe’ from their second album is welcomed. “And irony is okay, I suppose, culture is to blame / You try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way” realises illusory behaviour on a warm track.

‘I Like America & America Likes Me’ plays with experimentation like no other. Singing “Kids don’t want rifles they want Supreme” under distorted vocals, Healy’s voice becomes its own instrument in a track that started out as a homage to SoundCloud rap. With an impenetrable trap beat, only a few lyrics stand out beneath the mumble. Quickly contrasted with ‘The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme’, Matty is withdrawn as Siri chronicles a poem about loneliness, internet fascination and data. It’s witty but genuinely sad, detailing the man’s journey into the afterlife (“And then he died / In his lonely house / On the lonely street / In that lonely part of the world / You can find him on Facebook”).

‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ thrives on Healy’s contradiction of producing shimmering yet slightly askew tracks as he depicts the struggle of addiction - devoid of self-pity with a nostalgic 80s backing. There’s a chorus lifting his vocals as he sings about loneliness; “All I do is sit and drink without you / If I choose then I lose / District my brain from the terrible news / It’s not living if it’s not with you”, whilst the track’s glistening optimistic aura blankets themes of unrequited love and substance abuse. ‘It’s Not Living’s’ seamless production is a definite album highlight.

By this point in the album, it’s evident every song offers an unexpected treat, yes ‘Surrounded by Heads and Bodies’ is merely delicate, but then again a drum beat skips where a chorus ‘should’ sit. There’s something about the way A Brief Inquiry wanders slowly through genres that makes for a fascinating listen. ‘Mine’ takes this on in the form of a woozy jazz number, evoking West Coast nostalgia as a result of the band’s love of John Coltrane. Similarly, ‘I Couldn’t Be More in Love’ is a rework of an 80s power ballad, complete with chorus backing, treated keyboards and Healy’s own guitar solo. It’s celebratory yet despondent in its vocal performance.

There’s a macro scale to this album that’s sounder than its predecessors, as the band offer an insight on what social media and internet addiction mean to a generation of young people who can still remember not having it. Comparisons have been made to Radiohead’s OK Computer, although two decades later The 1975 do not so much find fault with the growth of technology as much as they accept and understand it. While confusing at times, A Brief Inquiry is perfectly indicative of the perplexing 21st century. Abandoning neon lights for a bleak sonic world, the 15 tracks are certainly not boring.

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