Review Summary: Everything in its right place
I have a love-hate relationship with The 1975. Every album, they craft a handful of songs that convince me they have the potential to be one of the greatest modern rock bands. Usually, those tracks are cushioned by fluff that couldn’t be distinguished from the insides of my bed pillows. Their lyrics aren’t bad, they’re atrocious. Somehow though, even in my anger, that makes them more memorable. They actually titled an album I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
, and of course, it had to be their best release, making it much harder to ridicule. Now the year is 2020 and, in an era where streaming music is all the rage and most human beings have the attention span of a moth, they release a behemoth 22-track record that, of course, just has
to flow beautifully and not feel like a burden to get through at all. At every turn, they practically beg to be torn a new one by critics, only to stick a semi-awkward landing with their latest and most ridiculous stunt as most of us applaud and hold up 7’s and 8’s to reward their guts, while others of us trip all over our keyboards to anoint their work as the next OK Computer
as if The 1975 even exist on the same astral plane as Radiohead. I’m goddamned sick of it – yet, here we are again.
If you accept all of the aforementioned gripes and praises as the definition of the band, then Notes on a Conditional Form
is the most The 1975 album yet. It drifts in and out of ambience and electronics, occasionally rising to the veritable bopper, sometimes settling into a cozy acoustic groove. They issue a stark environmental warning to anyone who has been living under a rock for the past thirty years via an introduction that features Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, then blast the doors down with one of their all-time heaviest rockers in ‘People’ – where frontman Matt Healy’s urgent shouts admittedly sound incredible. There’s an assortment of front-loaded interludes (‘The End’, ‘Streaming’) where strings ache and swell but serve very little purpose to the album’s flow. On ‘The Birthday Party’, deservingly or not, they pour salt in the Pinegrove wound (“They were kinda fucked up before it even started / They were gonna go to the Pinegrove show / They didn't know about all the weird stuff / So they just left it”). Throughout all of the clumsiness, Notes on a Conditional Form
still sounds amazing thanks to its immaculate production, which allows electronic cuts like ‘Yeah I Know’ to sound transcendent. Ironically, The 1975 are at their very best when they keep it simple, like they do on the aforementioned no-frills rocker ‘People’, or the gorgeous acoustic ballad ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’, where Matt Healy imparts religious sarcasm while Phoebe Bridgers joins in to sing about masturbating to the girl next door, Claire. Again, it’s one of those situations where the lyrics are so bad that they’re almost good.
‘Me & You Together Song’ is Notes
’ version of ‘It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You’ – a neon-bright, hyper synthesized pop banger that swells with warmth and optimism, but diminishing returns carry a toll. Naturally, an album torn in this many directions is bound to include some lo-fi hip-hop, right? We get it in ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’, which is hilariously out of place and features a huge, gospel-style chorus. They come back to this, for some reason, with some weird reggae-styled vocals in the background of the ultra-repetitive ‘Shiny Collarbone.’ The four song stretch from ‘Playing On My Mind’ to ‘Bagsy Not In Net’ is awash in a sea of meandering electronics that I dare you to remember, and that whole section probably could have been amputated from Notes
’ nearly hour-and-a-half bottom line for the greater good. Things pick up again towards the end with the penultimate ‘Don’t Worry’, which sounds like a Bon Iver i,i
b-side, and the melodic yet ultimately unaffecting ‘Guys’, which concludes our journey with an apathetic shrug.
So, now what? The 1975 have created a very bloated version of A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
, which means that it has some really impressive moments of electronic experimentation and upbeat indie-rock gems, but also a large swath of songs that could have been left to a future EP or b-side collection. Even the worst moments here have their charm, and the best ones usually get tripped up by some cringe-inducing lyrics or a head-scratcher of a songwriting decision. Everything feels buoyed by a combination of the band’s reputation and their willingness to do what most other bands won’t – which sometimes pans out, but often faceplants. Notes on a Conditional Form
is The 1975 as we know them – just good enough to not be bad. It’s not a glowing endorsement, but surely there’s someone out there who has already typed the phrase Kid A
about this, so I’ll just leave the highest praise to that critic. As for me, this is just another not-so-brief inquiry into my love-hate relationship with The 1975, where the side of hate is starting to run way with things.