Album Review: The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

By

Notes on a Conditional Form (NOACF) has not enjoyed an easy existence, delayed by 16 months and finally released during a global pandemic. The record sounds incredibly prescient, despite an overall lack of structure or a smooth flow between tracks. Matty Healy, the band’s main lyricist and lead singer, remarked in an interview with Pitchfork, that the album exists “as if it should be presented in a paper bag ” – a modern White Album of sorts; for why should artists need to restrict themselves to 45-minute records if they are no longer confined by the length of a tape, the size of an LP, the memory on a CD? The record’s defining messiness, the basis of the record’s criticism from  Alexis Petridis and Will Hodgkinson that NOACF needed external editing and refinement to exist as something more than a jarring, incohesive vanity project, is thus intentional. It is a scattered compilation of Notes –Healy and co. never professed it was anything else.

The band postponed the release of the album multiple times along with numerous name changes. Image: Matthew Healy by Markus Hillgärtner via Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, defining NOACF as this or that genre is impossible, as was the case with its predecessor A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (2018). There is an essential tangible difference between the two records, initially conceived as one LP. ABIIOR was focused on the now, discussing modern social psychology – whether that be the Instagram divas that are ‘gettin’ spiritually enlightened at twenty-nine’ (the glitch-poppy “Give Yourself A Try”) and “try to mask [their] pain in the most postmodern way” (the emo-jazz standard “Sincerity is Scary”) or the paranoid existentialist narrating “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”.

In contrast, NOACF is a collage of moods: yearning for the past, whilst looking towards future of uncertainty and hope; perpetually damned yet holding a glimmer of light in the darkness; introspective yet necessarily extrovert interactions (consider the number of guests on the record, including No Rome, Phoebe Bridgers and FKA Twigs). The 1975 airs these feelings in diverse scenarios, resulting in an intentional mess. It is the band’s ‘time to rebel’ – in political (Greta calls upon “mass civil disobedience”), lyrical (“People” remarks about sexual fantasies featuring Barack Obama) and certainly musical ways.

“There may be moments where you want to give up on the record; but you need to think about what it means for the band’s ‘mythology’ and era”

Therefore, the album starts with Greta Thunberg’s ecopolitical manifesto, followed by two tracks (intervened by a beautifully orchestrated interlude, “The End( Music For Cars”) proposing near-prophetic lyrics about the current Coronavirus crisis: ‘I don’t like going outside, so bring me everything here’ cries the rampant punk of “People”; this mirrored in message, not tone, by “Frail State of Mind” joking “Go outside? / Seems unlikely. The LP then lurches from country rock (“Roadkill”) to house (“What Should I Say”, Shiny Collarbone”), from instrumental electronica (“Having No Head”) to “Me & You Together Song”, a pop-punk singalong that disseminates elements from noughties teen favourites Busted and McFly into a meaningful track about unrequited but cherished love. Elsewhere, the arena-pop anthem “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” brings a fresh addition into the group’s catalogue of thrilling sax solos, whilst perfect amounts of guitar distortion from Healy, Hann and McDonald is delivered on “Then Because She Goes”.

The band have postponed upcoming concerts as a result of the pandemic. Image: The 1975 performing at the ‘Kentish Town Forum’ in London by Drew Fawkes via Wikimedia Commons

Nostalgia heavily prevails throughout – most notably with the closing two songs. “Don’t Worry” is a lush lullaby featuring additional vocals from Healy’s father; the track employs arpeggiated piano accompaniment to amplify the lyrics which seem to speak to Matty’s past self, lost amongst drug and alcohol addiction: ‘Don’t worry darling, the sun will shine through/When you wake up and you don’t know what day it is’. Finally, “Guys” provides the album – and the Music for Cars era – blissful closure, recalling ‘the golden times’ of the band’s formation in Wilmslow and Alderley Edge in a soft-rock ballad.

The quartet’s final album for some time is a twenty-two-track marathon. There may probably be moments where you want to give up on the record; but you need to think about what it means for the band’s ‘mythology’ and era. There is a cocktail of self-reference and self-deprecation; most notably, Healy admits that I never fucked in a car, I was lyin’- “I do it in my bed lyin’ down, not tryin’” on SoundCloud rap-aping “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” – referencing the opening cry of ABIIOR’s “Love It If We Made It”. It provides a cataloguing stop on the band’s first cycle, stretching back to their self-titled debut; even “The End (Music For Cars)” correlates with their debut’s instrumental “HNSCC”. Overall, NOACF, due to its quieter, introspective nature, may not be considered a “modern classic” or to be “critically acclaimed”. But, if the idea of retrospective is so repugnant to Healy, will The 1975 care? Seems unlikely.

The 1975’s latest album, Notes On A Conditional Form (Dirty Hit/Polydor) is available to buy and stream from https://the1975.com.

Image: Begoña via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.