The 1975’s Latest: Ignore the Album Title, It’s Well Worth a Listen
The 1975 first gained steam online back in 2013 amid their stark, high-contrast insignia and a public endorsement from One Direction's Harry Styles. Their brand of guitar-driven, aggressive pop-rock was enough to earn them a significant following from music’s most coveted and powerful fan base: Teenage girls.
And it's understandable: The green light from Styles combined with lead singer Matt Healy's penchant for eye-roll-worthy pretension and the band's undeniable knack for slick, digestible pop (often disguised as considerably more profound than it really is) came together just so, with remarkable, appealing ease.
Things soon took a turn for the confusing, when the band's social media accounts suddenly went dark last year. It happened in the midst of their mainstream emergence, just as the band had gained enough traction on the charts to garner romance rumors between mop-topped Healy and pop radio's golden girl, Taylor Swift. Fans wondered in tandem on Twitter and Tumblr if the band had chosen a permanent erasure from the music scene, from fame -- so sudden and swift was their vanishing act. It was a move that provided many with a valuable, if not painful, life lesson: Just as quickly as things come, so they, too, may go.
But, as it turns out, there was no need for worry: The 1975 managed a social media rebirth of sorts with an image that promised a different, lighter feel, more pep in their pop. By mid-2015 they'd eviscerated all evidence of their premiere image, trading in their black-and-white hues for a more inviting color scheme of pink pastels and neon signage -- a heavy departure from their somber, debut shtick.
The music, it seems, has followed suit. "Love Me," the lead single off their bombastically titled sophomore release I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It is a Bowie-biting burst of luminosity -- all disorienting guitars and declarative statements: "You got a beautiful face but nothing to say." Second single "UGH!" is a funkified ode to cocaine, a worthy earworm perfectly echoing addiction in all its frenetic free-fall. "The Sound," meanwhile, offers bouncy pianos and peppy synths, making for a pop record rife with catchy hooks. If ever The 1975 were radio play-averse, they certainly aren't anymore.
Much of I Like It When You Sleep is steeped in the familiar -isms of the band's Self-Titled: Thematic elements of sex and drugs are inescapable here. But things are a little less surface-level this time around, too. On "If I Believe You," Healy grapples with religion and belief, invoking a gospel choir and heaving organs in a way that's almost vulgar in its transparency. But his delicate, vulnerable delivery ("If I'm lost / Then how can I find myself?") served over plucky strings inches it past potential cliche, offering an honest moment, instead.
It's that earnestness that saves an album so mired with excess (17 tracks!) from becoming an ostentatious mess. Where the group's self-titled debut sometimes suffered from an air of self-importance, I Like It When You Sleep offers listeners a self-aware wink. Healy knows he borders on the ridiculous, so self-effacing are some of these tracks (the single-worthy "She's American"). But where many pretentious bands come off as apathetic when it comes to criticism, it's clear Healy & Co. care very much what you think of them.
Thankfully, that self-awareness doesn't interfere with The 1975's ambition. They know what they're good at, and they know what they love, though the two don't always overlap: There are gratuitous, lengthy interludes, misplaced sax solos, and overwrought, verbose lyrics. And as with most things, some fare better than others.
"Loving Someone" is the album's most self-indulgent moment, and it'll prove divisive if only for Healy's try-hard, talk-sing vocals. The reverential "Please Be Naked" is nearly four-and-a-half minutes of delicate, twinkling piano and subtle drums -- and the track lags for just as long. As soon as it comes to its long-awaited end, it segues into the ambient, shoegaze-y "Lostmyhead," a reverb-heavy waste of five minutes on an album that already runs a little too long.
The rapacious "The Ballad of Me and My Brain" mercifully follows, an uptempo wake-up call that explores the effects fame's had on Healy's mental state. "I think I've gone mad / Isn't that so sad?" he asks over fuzzy guitars and staccato drums, before the track teeters off its own brink and falls apart in a glorious mess of whispered refrain.
It's a less relatable moment, sure, but the song lends some much-needed breathing room to the album's more intimate moments. "Nana" is a decidedly personal track in an album full of largely oblique introspection. Written about the death of Healy's grandmother, he sings over a simple acoustic guitar melody, "A grownup man dressed in white / Who I thought might just save your life / But he couldn't, so you died." It's a simple statement, heartbreaking in its resignation. A song this gentle nearly borders on intrusion.
The success of "Nana," of course, lies partly in its sonic departure from the album's bounding '80s sound -- there are no synths here, no modulated guitars or excessive feedback. Besides, it's not needed -- The 1975 explore those moments elsewhere and with ferocious sophistication.
The synth-heavy "A Change of Heart" recalls The 1975's own songs -- "Sex," "The City" and "Robbers" all get callbacks, as Healy explores the disillusionment of a relationship, when the rose-colored glasses fade to clear: "And you were coming across as clever / Then you lit the wrong end of your cigarette." But it's thankfully not without its own self-searing, "I'll quote On The Road like a twat."
Then there's the Police-esque, mid-tempo standout "Paris." With it's percolating guitars, the track is an obvious "Every Breath You Take" rip, but The 1975 do it one better. Healy's wistful vocals recall The Smiths' emotive leader Morrissey, all overwrought melancholy and sensitivity, yet he somehow delivers a line like, "There was a party that she had to miss / Because her friend kept cutting her wrists" with an almost laughable nonchalance reminiscent of Pete Wentz at his most emo.
It only makes sense then, that teens would fall for The 1975 long before the rest of the world allowed itself to do the same: Anyone with an album title as overwrought and ridiculous as I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It understands all those nuanced teen emotions you never quite return to once you hit your mid-20s. It's easy to forget those long-ago feelings of excess and overindulgence; thank god The 1975 are here to remind us.