Review Summary: A batch of quality pop songs – nothing more, nothing less.
One of the things that has become increasingly popular in internet publications is shock statements. Headlines that make you go “wow” and compel you to give that website a view…you know, click-bait
. Music review websites are often just as guilty of doing the same thing, excitedly proclaiming someone as the savior of rock every year or hailing an album as a generational statement. The 1975 have been praised a lot recently, especially with the release of A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
– which has already been crowned as the OK Computer
of this generation. Okay.
It’s declarations like this that seem to fuel the already rapidly intensifying hyperpolarization of musical opinions within online communities. It often feels like something is either “the greatest album ever” or it’s not worth listening to at all. There is
an in between, and that’s where The 1975 reside. They’re a talented band that blends 80’s rock-influences with modern electronic pop, and A Brief Inquiry
, while far from groundbreaking, is still an excellent record.
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
essentially has three modes. There are your synth-hyper, all-out poppers like ‘Give Yourself a Try’ or ‘It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You’, and they seem to exist in the largest batch. There are also your ambient/electronic noodlers, such as the vocoder-infused ‘How to Draw / Petrichor’, which believe it or not recalls recent Justin Vernon works (in particular 22, A Million
). Finally, there are your gently strummed ballads – before it was ‘Nana’ and ‘Paris’, here it’s ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ and ‘Be My Mistake’, among several others. The 1975 have become quite adept at all three styles, and every album in their career thus far has featured an aesthetically pleasing balance of everything in their arsenal. Therein lies The 1975’s actual appeal; it’s not that they’re visionaries, it’s that they care a whole lot about their craft and refuse to put out subpar material. In an era where music is written as quickly as possible and thrown against the wall to see what sticks among active streamers, that’s a commendable trait.
That’s not to say that there isn’t evolution. In a side-by-side comparison with I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
, this album is decidedly even more mainstream and electronic in its approach, especially in the application of synthesizers and vocoder vocals where previous albums sounded less futuristic. There’s also a pretty noticeable turn from away from midtempo pacing (‘Change of Heart’, ‘She’s American’) and towards thoughtful crooners (about half of Inquiry
). The midtempo “rockers” that remain are executed extremely well, with ‘Love It If We Made It’ serving as a more powerful ‘Somebody Else’ – only with better lyrics about the hardening stances of society (“Oh *** your feelings, truth is only hearsay / We're just left to decay, modernity has failed us”) – and ‘It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You’ feeling like the best 80’s pop song that never happened until now (and is subsequently the best pop song of 2018 – fight me). The aforementioned abundance of ballads are also, for the most part, done extremely well. While ‘Be My Mistake’, ‘Inside Your Mind’, ‘Surrounded By Heads and Bodies’, ‘Mine’, ‘I Couldn’t Be More In Love’, and ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ all feel sincere and romantic, the best of the downtempo tracks has to be ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ – a slightly funky, offbeat lounge/jazz influenced song that feels like it could be the next logical step for this band.
If you’re expecting me to now list the ways in which Inquiry
falters, you’ll be disappointed. The album isn’t as hit-or-miss as you might expect an ambitious pop album to be; it maintains a uniform level of quality craftsmanship. ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ might be the lone exception – a heavily overproduced single with a slightly irritating melody that ruins the album’s early flow. Outside of that, there are merely tracks that underwhelm in comparison to the record’s stronger moments – a subjective endeavor that’s not really worth undertaking/analyzing. In itself, consistency might be The 1975’s greatest improvement over I Like It When You Sleep
– an album that could have been trimmed down to ten songs and been infinitely better off for it. The peaks here don’t quite aspire to ‘Change of Heart’, ‘Paris’, or some of that album’s top highlights, but Inquiry
is an enjoyable experience from start to finish that requires no reordering, playlist-creating, or picking/choosing of any sort.
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
does a lot of things well. In remarkably consistent fashion, it fuses jazz, electronica, rock, and pop. The album simultaneously broadens and softens The 1975’s sound, adding some very welcome experimental brushstrokes while turning the momentum towards downtempo rhythms and acoustic balladry. They’ve also crafted some tunes that belong among the best pop songs of the year (especially ‘It’s Not Living’). It’s an impressive album, even if it remains mostly in-bounds of what you’d expect. Great albums don’t need to define a generation or open doors to other worlds, they just need to make great music - and Inquiry
does exactly that. It’s a batch of quality pop songs – nothing more, nothing less.