The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form (Dirty Hit/Interscope) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, June 4th, 2020  

The 1975

Notes on a Conditional Form

Dirty Hit/Interscope

May 21, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Few artists have attempted to address the responsibilities of a mainstream rock band over the last decade as seriously as The 1975’s Matt Healy. Across three increasingly ambitious records, Healy (and bandmates George Daniel, Adam Hann, and Ross MacDonald) obsessed over the possibilities of what a modern band could be, how it could sound, and what it could stand for. In doing so, they rejected old binaries between commercial aspirations and artistic innovation, sincerity and irony, and, most notably, pop and rock music. Healy’s lyrics have sought to capture the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it overstimulation of modern life and the moral dilemmas of living in an era of exploitative consumerism—while his bandmates have pushed and pulled in every possible musical direction. It can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly defines a 1975 song. Healy & co. have attempted furious punk-rock, introspective R&B, and glossy synth-pop with equal vigor—yet their sound is unmistakable.

That slipperiness has earned them their fair share of acclaim and derision. Our reviewer labeled their last record, 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, as “bland and conceptually average,” while Pitchfork called it “outrageous and eclectic.” and named its maximalist single ‘Love It If We Made It’ as the best song of the year. (For the record, this writer thought A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships was a mostly triumphant record.) 

Early reviews indicate that its much-anticipated follow-up is set to be even more divisive. At 22 tracks and 80 minutes long, Notes on a Conditional Form is the band’s longest and arguably most daring record, yet it is also their most understated work—a reflective and oddly sober re-evaluation of Healy’s persona which contains much of his funniest and most wistful material to date. It asks what comes after the acclaim and stardom, when the dust settles and old flaws and insecurities resurface? 

When The 1975 originally intended to release Notes on a Conditional Form, in the summer of 2019, Healy’s attention was focused on climate change—a topic that made the album’s first two singles bristle with anxious urgency. But the call to arms issued by Greta Thunberg on the album’s opening track (simply titled “The 1975), and the ridiculously entertaining punk-rock rager “People” which follows it, are red-herrings. Anyone looking for a protest album will be sorely disappointed. This may be the most inward-looking album of The 1975’s career so far.

It’s hard not to see this record as a reflection on Healy’s personal life in 2019, in which he turned 30 and split up with his long-term partner. Much of Notes on a Conditional Form sees Healy turning his critical eye on himself, rejecting the theatrics of his past performances, and craving the calm of domesticity. On the album’s emotional centerpiece, “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied,” he dismantles his most acclaimed line—“I never fucked in a car I was lying/I do it on my bed lying down not trying.” On the plaintive ballad “Playing on My Mind,” Healy wonders if he will die playing in a band. And on the surprisingly rustic tour diary “Roadkill,” he addresses the never-ending scrutiny that comes with being a publicly opinionated artist, noting how he “took shit” for not speaking out during the UK’s 2019 general election. “Maybe that’s fair but I’m a busy guy!” he replies. 

Whether you find these admissions charming or irritating is likely to determine your appreciation of Notes on a Conditional Form. Healy has been accurately described as a “reformed asshole” and his willingness to reveal uncomfortable details about his life has inspired adoration from fans, but tended to rile skeptics. To these ears, he strikes an impressive balance between sincerity and knowing self-awareness across these songs. He is a confounding and at times hypocritical protagonist, but you could say the same about a number of classic frontmen.

Musically, Notes on a Conditional Form retreats slightly from the unrestrained adventurousness of its predecessor—in the sense that it largely settles on two styles: unpretentious indie rock and the band’s interpretation of British club genres like dubstep and UKG. The former is the most successful, leading to the gorgeous jangle-pop of “Me & You Together Song”’ and the wryly-observed country-rock of “The Birthday Party.” Although The 1975’s version of club music is better than it has any right to be—particularly on the quietly stirring “I Think There’s Something You Should Know”—some of Notes on a Conditional Form’s dancefloor-focused tracks feel inessential on such a long record.  

Elsewhere, there is a two-track burst of light-footed neo-soul, with the aforementioned “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied” and the charming “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy),” and a glorious reprise of the band’s earlier ’80s pop sound on “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”—a song which sounds like The Blue Nile merging with Duran Duran. It is on these tracks where The 1975 are at their best, combining self-deprecating humor with sharp radio-friendly hooks.  

It is also impressive that out of these 22 tracks, only two are clear misfires. The Burial-esque “Bagsy Not In Net” offers little more than a pleasantly melancholy mood, while “Then Because She Goes” is a roaring shoegaze instrumental in need of a coherent melody. Notes on a Conditional Form is undoubtedly too long—it was almost inevitable that it would be—but there is at least an hour of great material here, more than most bands could muster from a year’s work, and another 20 minutes which is still decent. Notes on a Conditional Form could match their very best work in a more studiously edited form, although one imagines fans will disagree on which tracks should be cut.

As it is, this fourth album is another reminder of why The 1975 has been so hotly debated. There are few acts in recent years who can claim to be as boldly unpredictable or as committed to pushing their own boundaries. Healy has spoken in interviews about this album representing the end of an era, suggesting a smaller version of The 1975 in the future—one with less grandstanding and maybe less controversy. Although it may be hard to imagine this band taking a quieter path, Notes on a Conditional Form already feels like the first step on that journey. It is a deceptively intimate work; diary entries hidden within slickly produced pop songs, which shows Britain’s most divisive band still hasn’t lost its ability to surprise. (www.the1975.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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