I’ve never simultaneously disliked a band and been so perplexed by them at the same time as The 1975. The band’s I’ve previously disliked, I’ve made my decision and accepted that it’s not going to change. I find Imagine Dragons cringeworthy beyond belief and so I no longer listen or think about them much anymore. I think Mumford & Sons are this generation’s answer to Nickelback but despite how big they are, I’m able to tuck them into the back of my mind until Little Lion Man comes on at a pub. The 1975 is, however, not so easy to forget.
The British band have been both insufferable and great since they burst onto the scene with their panned but popular debut album. They were a band with a frontman who wanted to be on posters in teenage girls and also quoted in the Guardian as a political voice. In 2013, there were few popular bands promoting the rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic and while The 1975 were happy to be labelled as popstars, they also romanticised that rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle whether they actively wanted to or not.
There’s one aspect of that lifestyle that Matt Healy in particular left behind and that’s carelessness. In 2013, he asked a Guardian journalist after an interview whether they liked him “as a person” or not. It’s that self-awareness that made the album feel so vapid. It was a record about sex, girls and partying that occasional threw in lyrics like, “Why you singling him out, is it because of his race,” to make it sound socially and politically concerned.
Healy was both provocative and also incredibly vague when talking about the band. He told Genius that the song Sex was “a love letter to every prudish 17-year old girl,” which is creepy when you consider the song featured lyrics about blow jobs. Alongside comments like that, he wanted to be Jack Kerouac and swiped back at those who didn’t understand the band’s sound by saying it’s, “about the experience. It’s a big, sonic experience.” Groundbreaking.
Soon after the release of that album, I made up my mind that The 1975 were Fall Out Boy for upper-class hipsters and moved on but they didn’t make it so easy. In 2015, they returned with Love Me, a likeable anthem that saw Healy mock how self-aware he was while also embracing the bottle-clutching rockstar persona he supposedly hated. To me, it was as if The 1975 thought they were intelligent enough to mock the world of the music celebrity without falling into that world themselves. The only defence they had for anybody who criticised them was, “you don’t get it,” as if they were purely making music for ‘woke’ intellectuals of their ilk.
“The world needs this album,” Healy told NME in 2015 about their sophomore record I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. It was a far more intimate album than their debut but they still had to hide behind the sort of pretentious persona that would lead you to a 16 word album title that Panic! At The Disco would’ve used in 2005.
The album turned out to be great. It was a masterful, if not a little bloated, collection of pop songs that showed the band were actually really, really good writers. To this day, I think Someone Else is up there with Dancing On My Own as one of the best pop songs of this millennium. Despite how great the album was it seemed the band didn’t understand the charm of it all. Healy said he was “challenging” people to sit through the album and then when pressed about what the next album would sound like he said, “Even more ridiculous.” The fact is, this album wasn’t that ridiculous at all. Guardian journalist Alex Petridis said it best when in his positive review of the album he wrote, “You’re left with an album that fancies itself as a challenging work of art, but turns out to be a collection of fantastic pop songs.”
When the band announced that they would release two new album’s in quick succession with the first titled A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships I was once again disinterested. I find the use of the word ‘Brief’ completely unnecessary and another attempt to shy away from genuine emotion. I listened to the singles, rolled my eyes at the “thanks Kanye, very cool,” line in Love It If We Made It and found the mysterious marketing campaign nauseating.
Well, you’ve sat through eight paragraphs to hear that A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is incredible. And so is the band. This is the first album where my emotional response to it is the same as what the band has described it as. It’s not “ridiculous” as Healy said it would be back in 2016. It’s an intimate and wide-scope look at modern relationships that also explores feelings of loneliness, helplessness and inconclusiveness.
Instead of pretending to have all the answers, this time around Healy sings things like, “Saying controversial things for the hell of it” (Love It If We Made It). No doubt he enjoys singing that linebecause it’s so reckless but it also seems to be an acknowledgement of things he’s said in the past like proudly declaring he’s “pretentious” in 2016.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this album is that it at least attempts to swap irony for sincerity. Sincerity Is Scary is Healy admitting that it’s easier to use irony or sarcasm than to simply be sincere and while nobody is ever going to truly nail that, it’s something that the band succeeds in on several of the album’s songs. The beautiful Be My Mistake is the most direct they’ve ever been with Healy singing, “Don’t wait outside my hotel room just wait ’til I give you a sign / ‘Cause I get lonesome sometimes.” A few years ago Healy said he didn’t want to make an album about “poor famous me” but this album acknowledges the loneliness of it more than ever before.
The closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) is the best song the band have ever written because it’s so succinct. It expertly depicts momentary despair and while it’s imagery it quite grim, it’s sweeping, cinematic instrumental makes it uplifting. Behind the persona, The 1975 are actually an optimistic, romantic band and the fact that their lowest moments are delivered like this is proof of that.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships feels like the work of a band that’s matured. It’s like Healy has realised that making sweeping realisations looking outward is not half as powerful if you’re not also looking inward. Of course, at times it’s over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek but for the first time the band feels human, like they’ve stepped off their pedestal. When you think about the greatest bands of all time, they don’t go down in history because they were more intelligent than the rest of us, they do so because we felt that they tapped into our feelings in a way we couldn’t.