The 1975
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships


2.0
poor

Review

by Will R. EMERITUS
December 3rd, 2018 | 74 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The 1975’s OK Computer.

In retrospect, “Give Yourself A Try” should have been enough of a warning. The song, like all the best 1975 singles, is almost pop-rock perfection, three guitar notes and three bass notes and stripped-back drums careening forward with explosive force. “Almost,” though, because of a few choice lyrical hotspots. Matty Healy sneering “I found a gray hair in one of my zoots / Like context in a modern debate, I just took it out” is deeply unpleasant in the way of a Shapirophile tweet: condescendingly smug, dismissive, and lazy, it bitterly swats at humor and utterly misses. The song succeeds despite it and a few other detachedly awful one-liners, but those lyrics still shine through like sun through a tattered curtain too early on a Sunday morning.

Then again, the 1975 have always succeeded in spite of their lyrics, not because of them. The band’s best songs involve nastily petty tell-offs to a girl half the narrator’s age (“Girls”), a narcissistic refusal to engage with a girlfriend’s (correct) critiques of a relationship (“The Sound”), and a belief that describing a kiss with the phrase “We've got one thing in common, it's this tongue of mine” is in any way pleasant (“Sex”). Healy has always played the part of the Tortured, Brilliant Male Artiste in his songs, souring on the women therein as soon as they voice any opposition to his M.O. of using them mainly as receptacles of his lust instead of three-dimensional human beings. The 1975 has always been a band with ears for brilliant hooks and choruses competing with a lyrical mode straight out of The Awl’s Portrait of the Alt-Bro As a Young Dumbass, but on their past two albums the former consistently won out over the latter.

Unfortunately, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships allows Healy to engage with all his worst wordsmith’s impulses and then some. The album has been described as the band’s OK Computer, and I think that’s a fairly accurate read: it is in every sense more ambitious, sweeping, and concerned with electronics than anything The 1975 has done in the past. Fortunately, that applies to its instrumentation and sonic arrangement, which constitutes some of the best work the band has ever accomplished. The diversity of styles covered and the success with which the band engage is astounding: They nail moody garage, hyper-autotuned club pop, and blue-eyed soul with the competence of a band far more experienced in all those genres. Like any other The 1975 album, the music is the selling point; at least that much hasn’t changed.

The ambition of A Brief Inquiry… includes its words as well, however, and here the album faceplants. Lyrically, it is exactly the album you’d expect from the title: pompous, self-aggrandizing, hamfisted, and painfully obvious. Whereas the concept of “what if...computers...are...bad...” was at least somewhat fresh when Radiohead tackled it twenty years ago, that was, well, twenty years ago. In the interim, we’ve seen oceans of nuanced critiques of technology’s effect on modern society, and for every nuanced critique there have been about ten thousand boring and trite #takes and thinkpieces about the same subject. Art that engages effectively with the overwhelming weight of modern existence should bring something at least a little new to the table; A Brief Inquiry… brings detached irony, cliched one-liner after cliched one-liner, and an examination of current events so vain and shallow that “surface-level” gives it too much credit.

Take “Love It If We Made It,” my least favorite song of the year. It pinballs between structural problems so quickly that none are examined beyond a name-check; it waxes cynical about the State of Modern Society so artlessly that the phrase “Modernity has failed us” is treated as a brilliant encapsulation of its ethos rather than an embarrassingly banal toss-off. Its perspective is a cheap facsimile of Banksy-lite We Live In A Society posturing - there’s little in the art world worse than Banksy’s faux-profound heavy-handedness, but a ripoff of that faux-profound heavy-handedness is certainly in that category - which is so nakedly earnest that the band’s Genius commentary literally begins with the phrase “We are in a world where…” The song characterizes the state we’re in today with the care and sensitivity of a rockist characterizing a Janelle Monae album.

The increased scope, lazy stabs at profundity, and general grossness of this album’s lyrics allow them to overwhelm the musicality for the first time in The 1975’s career. Different listeners can draw different lines in different places, but the self-serving arrogance of the performative wokeness found here is genuinely awful in a way that previous releases haven’t even sniffed. A Brief Inquiry… focuses on the sort of activist posturing of callous dudes everywhere trying to get into the pants of the girl humoring them at the bar, societally conscious for all of the worst reasons and none of the good. Hell, that’s basically the entire point of “Sincerity Is Scary,” which tells the narrator’s lover that “Instead of calling me out, [she] should be pulling me in” and that she’s “intermediately versed in [her] own feelings” without a trace of irony. It is the most insidious form of slacktivism imaginable, married to both a healthy dose of “Well, actually…” and a fervent belief that nobody else in the history of the world has ever considered that overreliance on technology could maybe be unhealthy.

If OK Computer had come out this year, it would be (rightly) derided as a bunch of dudes blithely and superficially retreading critiques of modern society that are both decades older and many times better over genuinely excellent production. That’s A Brief Inquiry… in a nutshell, except with all Thom Yorke’s most selfish impulses even more front-and-center and interrogated with even less self-awareness. The album combines the most obnoxious sneering aloofness with the dullest earnestness with the most insidiously boring toxic masculinity imaginable; it is genuinely impressive on how many tonal axes it utterly fails. Buried under hundreds of layers of lyrical gunk, you might find a brilliant, invigoratingly risky pop album, but those layers’ corrosive effects aren’t worth cutting through.



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user ratings (251)
Chart.
3.1
good
other reviews of this album
SowingSeason STAFF (3.8)
A batch of quality pop songs – nothing more, nothing less....

Drbebop (4)
We live in a society...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Brostep
Emeritus
December 3rd 2018


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Alt-bro as dumbass: https://www.theawl.com/2014/09/a-portrait-of-the-alt-bro-as-a-young-dumbass/

OK Computer comparison: https://www.nme.com/reviews/album/1975-brief-inquiry-online-relationships-review

Band almost literally saying "we live in a society" with a straight face: https://genius.com/15010847



if you want a good The 1975 album in 2018, might I recommend Pale Waves, which is sonically The 1975 minus Matty Healy, which is to say all the good minus all the bad

SteakByrnes
December 3rd 2018


14163 Comments


Excellent review, I've been curious about this album because there were a few songs on the last album that I thought were decent. Not sure if I wanna check this out now tho

nigelgrab
December 3rd 2018


128 Comments


Good review but love it if we made it is one of the best songs of the year

Brostep
Emeritus
December 3rd 2018


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

everyone's praised it to hell and back and I cannot for the life of me figure out why it's so universally beloved

nolerthebowler
December 3rd 2018


2976 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

the fact that black mirror is in the recommended albums looooooooooool. hard agree with this review, technological paranoia is a fad and they are playing into it.

Digging: The Menzingers - On the Impossible Past

speakonthat
December 3rd 2018


10 Comments


Finally a review I agree with. Thank you for this. Was considering writing one myself because I was fucking baffled by the praise for this record. This thing is a complete mess, and the lyrics are consistently intolerable.

Was slightly disappointed you didn't mention the "I'm-So-Sad-About-Fucking-Groupies" abomination that is "Be My Mistake", ,a song which literally contains the unforgivable line: "You do make me hard/But she makes me weak".

nolerthebowler
December 3rd 2018


2976 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"You do make me hard/But she makes me weak"



lmao

TheSpirit
Contributing Reviewer
December 3rd 2018


24630 Comments


i fucking love the way you write ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

notkanyewest
December 3rd 2018


13 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

As someone who really loves this band, I actually think the fundamental argument you're railing against here-that this record is "perfect for our times" or somehow captures millennials with perfect nuance- is dumb, and critics have totally honed in on that idea too much. But I think you really underestimate Healy's self-awareness as a lyricist and how he's presenting himself. The idea that he's laying out these ideas and portraying himself in a straight-faced, above-it-all way is really a misread to me. I think he's arguably as critical of himself, his personality and his place in the world as much he is of "society" or whatever.

nolerthebowler
December 3rd 2018


2976 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yeah no he's an awful lyricist accept the fax

notkanyewest
December 3rd 2018


13 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

He def is prone to the occasional clunker, like the "context in a modern debate" line which was fairly singled out here. But that just comes with his style. I think it succeeds way more often then it fails but it's obviously divisive.

THVRTVVN
December 3rd 2018


459 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

band needs to do a swan dive into rocks

nolerthebowler
December 3rd 2018


2976 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"comes with his style" aka his style is shit

Brostep
Emeritus
December 3rd 2018


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Idk I would love to believe Healy is at all self-aware but it doesn't seem like he's presenting any of this with even a smidge of irony yknow? Like, he presents his toxicity with such earnestness and frequency that I have a hard time believing he doesn't genuinely think at least most of it

nolerthebowler
December 3rd 2018


2976 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

if there's no evidence on the album itself that it comes from a place of irony, then no outside source claiming its got a layer of irony is of any value, even if it's the artist trying to claim it's supposed to be ironic. an album is a singular entity, and what an artist thinks of his own album frankly doesn't matter that much, unless it reflects words actually stated on the album



notkanyewest
December 3rd 2018


13 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I mean, I detect the irony. Lol. "Sincerity is scary" is literally a song about his use of irony. And if you think a line like "getting stds at 27 isn't really the vibe" is meant completely seriously then I really don't know what to tell you.

nolerthebowler
December 3rd 2018


2976 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i literally think that's how he talks, hate to break it to you. that's what I like to call surface-level paranoia.



the lyrics on this album are the same level as average twitter

Brostep
Emeritus
December 3rd 2018


4436 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

That's the thing, he uses his irony in the worst ways and is totally sincere when I'd hope for irony yknow? Like wrt Sincerity is Scary I only really hear the irony come through on lines like "I'm sure that you're not just another girl / I'm sure that you're gonna say that I was sexist" which is all kinds of yeesh. And then Love It If We Made It, which I'd hope would have some modicum of irony, seems delivered with a completely straight face, which is also yeesh

Green Baron
December 3rd 2018


24374 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Matt Healy is such an insufferable twat

he is 100% this album (and band's) downfall

robin
Emeritus
December 3rd 2018


4542 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

the ok computer chat around this album fully makes me want to die



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