In the intro to the music video for the 1975’s “Give Yourself a Try,” singer and frontman Matty Healy proclaims, “I’m unbelievably sentimental, and the best thing would be to actually be as earnest as I feel.” The song was the first original music from the British band in over two years, and it’s no coincidence that the new era opened with this message: it serves as a revamped mission statement for the 1975, whose previous work was lyrically ironic and clever. The group’s self-titled debut in 2013 was characterized by witty alternative pop-rock songs that brought them an obsessive fan base. Their 2016 follow-up “I Like It When You Sleep…” expanded and redefined their sound in an album heavily inspired by 1980s synth-pop, which garnered critical acclaim and proved that the 1975 was more than your average pop act. But neither of these albums granted a substantial look into Healy’s psyche, as most songs were hidden behind a mask of irony.
On the band’s newest album, “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships,” Healy trades irony for honesty. The 1975 combine a newfound vulnerability with technological existentialism to create their most ambitious project yet: a broad exploration of what it means to be in your twenties in 2018. Although its title implies strict social commentary, the album is as much a cathartic reflection of Healy’s personal life as it is an analysis of the digital age.
The magnitude of the album’s subject matter naturally leads to a wildly diverse collection of genres and topics. There’s so many different styles that anyone can find a few songs that suit their tastes. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” sounds like a Drake-Rihanna tropical house remix of “The Sound” from the band’s previous album, and tackles the role of social media in modern romance. “Be My Mistake” is a strictly acoustic, incredibly vulnerable lament of Healy’s loneliness and infidelity. “Mine” could be a Christmas jazz classic if not for its lyrics about fighting crime online. “I Like America & America Likes Me,” a tribute to Soundcloud rap with blaring trap beats and heavy autotune, passionately condemns American gun culture and vocalizes the fear it creates with lyrics like “I’m scared of dying” and “would you please listen?” Perhaps the oddest track on the album, “The Man Who Married A Robot” features a Siri-narrated poem reminiscent of the film “Her.” The second half of the song moves into an orchestral instrumental piece straight out of a Disney movie.
Unfortunately, the album isn’t perfect. It’s so eclectic that just as any listener will probably enjoy many songs, most listeners will also find one or two songs that just doesn’t appeal to their taste. Spazzy electronic tracks “Petrichor” and “I Like America…” will probably alienate many listeners, and “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies” doesn’t fit with the rest of the album thematically. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is certainly sincere, but is too cheesy a ballad to be taken seriously. One listener’s favorite songs could be another’s least favorites.
The heights of the album, though, are incredible. Fans of the band’s previous two albums will immediately gravitate toward “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” a guitar-driven pop anthem that easily could have been featured on either of their previous albums. Healy tells the story of a heroin addict named Danny, then reveals that he’s “in the same situation.” The singer has heavily implied his issues with substance abuse in the past, but never confronted the topic so directly. Like The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” “It’s Not Living” is a catchy, upbeat pop song that seems like a love song at first, but is actually directed toward an anthropomorphized drug.
“Sincerity is Scary,” which boasts one of the most joyful music videos of the year, features a brass section and a gospel choir that would fit comfortably in a Chance the Rapper album. Healy adopts the perspective of his own romantic partner and criticizes his worst tendencies with lyrics like “you try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way” and “why would you believe you could control how you’re perceived?” It’s introspection at a previously unreached level. The closing track “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” features string arrangements from David Campbell, who also arranged the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.” The song lies sonically somewhere between a late-90’s Oasis hit and a mid-career Taylor Swift deep cut, and the lyrics reflect the ambiguity of the title, vacillating between hopeful verses and suicidal choruses.
“Love It If We Made It,” the album’s best track, is a political cry that critiques Trump, Twitter, fake news, and nearly every other major issue of 2018. On a previous album, Healy would have discussed these topics from a removed, witty perspective, but his new sincerity puts him at the center of the conflict. The bridge in particular is akin to a 2018 update of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” But while Joel’s song embraces pessimism and avoids blame, the 1975’s offers a respite of optimism in its repetitive chorus. The song’s refrain “Modernity has failed us, and I’d love it if we made it” best represents the album as a whole: it’s desperately authentic, unmistakably modern, and, despite all odds, hopeful. “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” is one of 2018’s best albums, and anyone can find a few tracks to love.