Published Nov 28, 2018Audacity is the 1975's bread and butter — no idea is too bold, no question too messy. So when word came that the English quartet were planning on releasing not one, but two new albums in the span of six months, it was taken with a shrug, because of course they were.
But audacity can only get you so far, something the 1975 also know too well. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the first of those two releases, was preceded by half-a-dozen sonically divergent singles bound together by the band's ineffable ability to weave influences past and present into something wholly new and familiar. It's what's allowed the group, spearheaded by singer and songwriter Matty Healy, to build upon each release without succumbing to bloated rock band clichés, at least not without the requisite self-aware quip to bring the whole thing back down to Earth.
Of course, that was before Healy fell prey to perhaps the biggest rock star clichés of them all: drug addiction and rehab. Yet he's responded to his personal travails by ditching ironic detachment and embracing a newfound sincerity and emotional vulnerability. The transition gets a real-time workout on the shuffling "Sincerity Is Scary," one of the record's many slow-burning pleasures. His substance abuse problems get their own airing on "It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)," while "I Like America & America Likes Me" finds the singer dissecting his relationship to fame.
Most of the album's big highlights have already seen the light of day — the bubbling effervescence of "TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME," the pointed and plaintive "Love It Uf We Made It" — but even interstitial tracks that sew the record's 15 tracks together feel essential to its being.
Its ambitious title is apt, even if it has few answers. And the band don't seem interested in offering them either. "Love It If We Made It" is a laundry list of cultural references, à la "We Didn't Start the Fire" or "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," yet its only purpose seems to be catharsis. Meanwhile their old postmodern ways rear their head on "The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme" a hilarious AI-narrated sendup of our relationship with the internet.
Much has been made over the years of the 1975's status as a rock band operating at a pop music level. But it's their willingness to fall flat on their face while swinging for the fences that separates them from the focus-grouped inoffensiveness of their pop peers. The messiness of the whole thing seems to be the point, part of its audacity. In most artists' hands, that would be a recipe for creative bloat. Yet more than ever before the 1975 prove themselves masters of the form. (Polydor/Universal)