I first listened to The 1975 to impress a girl. We did theatre classes together and I fancied her rotten. I ended up getting her a signed photo of her favourite band for Christmas, hoping to be charming. She liked it, but didn’t take the hint. Shame really. I haven’t seen her in years, but the photo would be worth a bit if I’d kept it. Not bad for a Sharpie and some laminated paper.
So, The 1975. Led by teenage heartthrob Matty Healy, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships sees the band riff on an eclectic mix of the 21st century’s ills. Their style is a bit like if the Pet Shop Boys wedged their synthesiser on “funk” whilst earnestly throwing some guitars against a wall. The lyrics are a tad grandiose. The last album – with the logically obvious yet grammatically difficult title I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It – had classics like “you look famous, let’s be friends / And portray we possess something important”. Shelley must be weeping.
But I’m an old cynic, and far from the target audience. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships has some genuinely good songs. ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’ is catchy. ‘Love It If We Made It’ has a great chorus. ‘It’s Not Living (If it’s not with you)’ has enough rhythm, at least, for a jogging playlist.
But by the time you’re reaching the vainglory of ‘The Man Who Married a Robot’, something’s going wrong. Art is staring to imitate life. It’s about a man whose lonely life revolves around the internet, narrated by a cod-Google Translate electronic voice. For an album about online relationships, something about a relationship with the online doesn’t seem that unusual. But, in writing it, The 1975 have been wilfully blind to just how much it sums them up.
1975 was great for music. Two number ones are certified classics – Space Oddity and Bohemian Rhapsody. They are iconic because they’re unique. Not only are they well written, memorable and catchy – even operatic – but they boldly go where music hasn’t gone before. This isn’t true of The 1975. Not the opera bit, though they do lack there. No, this album’s real problem is its jarring predictability.
I blame the internet. Like many, I listened to this album on Spotify. For reasonable fees we get all the music we’d want just a few clicks away. My Dad, his school lunchtimes lost trawling the record shops of 80s Aylesbury, finds this magical. For me, self-conscious young fogey I am, it’s quite sad. Music is being ruined.
No longer does it need to be genuinely different to win success, like Bowie and Queen. Instead it’s the same pseudo-edgy Sixth Form poetry being churned out again and again to an audience getting exactly what they want. If we want, our Song Radio can find us a hundred other songs from a hundred similar bands all trying equally to be daring and new. The revolutionary in commonplace. How is that anything but dull?
The 1975 typify this. Some robotic pretentious waffle. Some cynical love songs. Some good hooks, a few nice bridges. Rinse and repeat for an album for an identikit album, with a dozen else out there the same.
This album, then, is like my gift to that girl – grandiose and well-intended, but woefully missing its mark. In trying to make an interesting point about how the internet corrupts us, it falls victim to the same malaise. A shame, as “Love It If We Made it” really is quite good. Who knows, maybe better things are on the horizon.