Indie millennial heartthrob boy band The 1975 are back with their latest album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’. The follow up to 2018’s ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ which saw the band expand their sound into more areas of electronic and ambient music whilst still retaining their signature indie pop groove. Now they have returned with their most expansive work to date, after already being delayed twice for production reasons. This album certainly contains a lot, to say the least. At nearly 1 hour and 20 minutes theres so many left turns, different directions and ideas screaming to take the lead next that there’s enough material here to encompass two stand alone albums; and maybe thats what this should have been.
To get through this album properly you need to clear your schedule and be ready to embrace everything and anything that’s thrown at you by Matt Healy an co. That’s not to say there aren’t standout moments within this album, there really is. There’s forward thinking music and messages whilst still calling up a sound that feels nostalgic and yet familiar. Like the opening ‘Welcome’ track as Healy calls it, the usual 1975 theme song is replaced with a more ambient texture that surrounds the extremely important speech by modern day Joan Of Arc Greta Thunberg, telling of the importance of acting now if we are to anything about climate change. I truly believe this is one of the most important pieces of music of our time as it perfectly captures the most important issue of our time, given to us by one of the most important figures of our time. A staple of modern times. Some of the more ‘folkier’ styled songs on the album really shine through as well. ‘The Birthday Party’ which although can be a little whacky and weird in moments, a similar theme for most of this album, still has some really great instrumentation. It’s got a nice chilled out sound and short but sweet saxophone solo that altogether is creates a breezy atmosphere. And ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ a song about repressed homosexuality which features the Queen of sad indie-folk herself, Phoebe Bridgers. The harmonies here are outstanding, with the stripped back sound allowing these to really stand out over the distant horns.
Where this album loses its footing and becomes really drawn out are some of the attempts at different styles and the instrumental tracks that end up suffocating the better tracks. There are some interesting ideas within the instrumental passages like on ‘Having No Head’ that starts slow and ambient with its piano riffs, and then transforms into a club-like electronic movement bringing in different elements of funk and house. But it feels like at the point in the album thats this song is placed it’s just being dragged out for the sake of it. The instrumentals altogether take up nearly 12 minutes of the albums run time which is about a sixth of the album. It’s not to say that The 1975 shouldn’t experiment in instrumental tracks, some of these are sonically quite expansive. But perhaps if they want them to be this long they should be on a project of their own, allowing them to stand out and be more coherent together. Aside from the instrumentals there’s tracks that just feel a bit half baked like ‘Yeah I Know’ and ‘What Should I Say’ that don’t really progress past Healy saying the title over and over. There’s the weird ‘alt-country’ attempt on ‘Roadkill’, a song about touring America that feels like a parody of every classic patriarchal American anthem. And ‘Then Because She Goes’ which feels like a 2 minute chorus snippet from a complete song. There’s not a huge amount of progression behind the buried vocals and occasional throws of “Love You”, leaving the track falling flat.
When the band wants to experiment with their sound they can do it, and they can do it well. ‘People’ which is probably the hardest 1975 song there is, brings back a classic emo punk sound. It’s got a hard hitting riff and a kick your teeth in chorus. “People like people, They want alive people, The young surprise people, Stop fucking with the, fucking with the”. And being placed straight after Greta Thunberg’s powerful statement it allows the message of allowing progressive thinkers in our time to not be pushed down for questioning the status quo to really hit hard. ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’ is bathed in 80’s nostalgic sounds, not that this isn’t a style that The 1975 haven’t played with before but this time they go full throttle. From its chorus induced to its screaming ‘Late Night TV’ sax solo its got it all, whilst still speaking on a modern topic of being obsessed with a model online. “I see her online, All the time, Well, she said, “Maybe I would like you better if you took off your clothes, I’m not playing with you, baby, I think that you should give it a go”.
There’s certainly a lot to unpack within this album and perhaps the ‘Notes’ part of the title is more relevant than intended as this album comes together as lots of ideas and unconnected thoughts, that don’t quite make a full piece. The 1975 still know how to make a banger that’s for sure and there’s plenty of those within, if you’re willing to dig deep enough.