There’s a certain duality that exists within The 1975 frontman Matty Healy. He’s vociferously critical of the nature of pop stardom in the internet age while simultaneously embodying the unabashed flamboyance and charisma of a bona fide pop star. And it’s this twofold nature that explains the conundrum that is the Manchester-based pop (and Healy will be the first to emphasize the “pop”) quartet: they are a band that will make you wince but most certainly have your attention. And they know it.

But if you cut through all of the excess and self-mythologizing neuroticism, you’ll find that The 1975 is actually a good pop band; a band that, whether you want to admit it or not, articulate the never-ending spiral into total oblivion we are falling into every single day of our bleak existence. Fortunately, though, they do it with sweet melodies, anthemic synths, and slick guitars.

And on their third full-length LP, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, The 1975 create their most ambitious, conceptual album to date, navigating the complexities of human interaction in digital spaces.

A Brief Inquiry Into A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

The Music

Like each of its predecessors, A Brief Inquiry begins with a uniquely reworked version of “The 1975,” and it’s here we get a glimpse into the 59 minutes that’s to come. Produced primarily by Healy and drummer George Daniel, The 1975 move out of their comfort zone of straightforward synth-driven pop rock and venture into new sonic territories, experimenting with tropical dancehall on the track “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” a song dedicated to the murky waters of texting other people while you’re in a relationship; spacey autotune-heavy electronic music akin to Bon Iver‘s 2016 LP 22, A Million on the tracks “How to Draw / Petrichor” and “I Like America and America Likes Me;” and like they did on their 2016 LP, they explore elements of jazz on early single, and perhaps the album’s strongest track, “Sincerity is Scary.”

There’s a lot happening on this record, and overall it works. The 1975’s strongest asset has always been their sharp sense of melody, and A Brief Inquiry is full of sugary sweet hooks that, although sound familiar, will infuriatingly permeate through your brain for the foreseeable future. The most shining example of this is another pre-release single, “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You).” The most reminiscent of their earlier work, the song is a straight 1980’s pop rock anthem, juxtaposing its upbeat, arena-like atmosphere with the darker story of Healy’s struggle with heroin addiction.

The Worldview

The contrast between the bright soundscapes and dark lyrical themes has always been a prevailing ethos in The 1975’s discography. However, it’s often where the band is at their weakest. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about The 1975—or perhaps just Healy—is their desperation to be seen as a thematically complex outfit consisting of tortured poets, when in reality, their analysis of the world is actually quite shallow.

Take the album’s weakest moment, which is also the crux of the main theme of the album, “The Man Who Married a Robot,” a bizarre spoken word track about one man’s relationship with a personified characterization of the internet. The message here is on the nose: the man is addicted to the internet, so much so that the internet replaces tangible human relationships and he dies alone.

It’s moments like these where The 1975’s most glaring weakness fully exposes itself, and they remind you of the reason they are simultaneously reviled by many as much as they are beloved by their fan base. Healy has always wanted to be perceived as a wordsmith who creatively and philosophically deconstructs the human condition through song. However, his lyrics have always been at best surface level, and at worst insulting.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if Healy didn’t see himself as some kind of intellectual savior here to enlighten the masses of the issues facing humanity, when Healy often drops the ball himself, exposing just how little he actually understands the way humans relate to one another.

The Perfect Internet Band

Ironically, though, this criticism is just another facet of what makes The 1975 so compelling. Yes, their worldview runs no deeper than the shallow nihilism of a 2015 Tumblr post, but it’s through this lens we begin to understand The 1975’s place in popular music in 2018. They personify a cynical industry that aims to commodify every natural expression and space for human interaction and connection, to the point where every thought, opinion, and creation becomes nothing more than an exploitation of marketing and consumption.

The 1975 blur the line between the manufactured illusion of the music industry and genuine expression. The sonic hodgepodge, dense album lengths, and messy themes strangely capture the excess of the internet, where everything feels like an overload, and it’s impossible to decipher what’s real and what’s a complete lie. In this way, The 1975 are a perfect band for this decade.

Last Word on The 1975’s Latest Album

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships finds The 1975 embracing everything that’s ever been said about them, whether that be good or bad. For fans, it’s another breath of fresh air, a collection of infectious pop tunes that make dealing with the nightmare of reality even slightly more tolerable. For detractors, it’s more evidence of why reality is a nightmare: that we’re all just living in a dystopian machine designed to keep churning out the same product to keep us complacent until our inevitable demise. A case can be made for both.

As a body of work, though, A Brief Inquiry is The 1975 at their best, and for better or for worse, they help us understand the nature of our current reality.

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