The rise of The 1975 & fifth album preview
With their fifth album just around the corner, do The 1975 get enough credit for being one of the best British bands?
Hello, I’m Josh. When discussing first contributing to this site ages ago, Matt (you know Matt) said I should write an article about why I think The 1975 are the best British band right now. This suggestion came after I confessed my pure love for them. The truth is that I didn’t want to make that statement because I actually believed them to be the best band on the planet, and still do…
I can imagine some of you reading that opinion and wanting to click off the page but honestly: Hear me out.
After their trademark social media blackout-turned-revival, The 1975 marked their return from a two-year absence with new single ‘Part of the Band’, Radio 1’s Hottest Record on July 7th. This is the first taste of their fifth album, which they have announced will be released on October 14th. It will be titled Being Funny in a Foreign Language and consists of 11 tracks, the names of which have been revealed too.
Usually with their comeback single, there is a sense of chaos – promises of new material, estimations of release dates, bold action statements. This time? They gifted the information people wanted without any smokescreen or teasing: We’re happy to be back; this is the album name; yes, we’re touring next year. Simple as that.
This sort of transparency hinted at their new ‘era’ being clinical, honest and music-focused. In the Radio 1 interview with Clara Amfo following the first play of ‘Part of the Band’, polarising lead singer Matty Healy all but confirmed these would be the ingredients.
He made it clear this LP was recorded in a raw way, and that they wanted their new work to be earnest and truthful. Where previous records have been so diverse, he claims this one is the most consistent sonically. Make of that what you will, as it’ll still probably be full of unexpected genre-hops as that is in their DNA.
As Healy often refers to, the band have been the same four-piece since they were 13/14 years of age. So, when their self-titled debut album was released in 2013 - and took the indie scene by storm - people praised it for how naive and '80s sounding it was. The latter is correct and a seasoning which they continue to sprinkle throughout their discography. But as they knowingly released this style of music in their mid-20s, way after they’d written most of it, they had already matured and moved on from this period.
As the melodies and lyrics were written as teenagers it gave it so much relatability for a younger audience. This meant that whilst The 1975 grew an instant young cult following who fell in love with their debut, they had already moved on and made a new evolved music, allowing them the rare luxury of being genuinely one step ahead of everyone. They didn’t have the usual post-debut “What Next?” breakdown an artist has, without a plan but with the world’s eyes fixed on them.
I was one of that young cult following I mentioned above. I was in my first year at University in 2013 when I first pressed play on this album. I kept hearing about them from people and they had almost as much hype around campus and social media as Arctic Monkey’s AM release.
On first listen, I remember loving how Healy let his voice go, how uplifting and headnod-inducing the guitars were. Slightly reluctantly, due to my hipster-esque dislike back then of following the crowd, I quite liked the band. ‘Chocolate’ was as sensational as it was eventually overplayed. ‘Girls’ followed me around on my nights out in alternative music bars and nightclubs with its addictive, sugary guitar riff. And ‘Sex’ was a rockier, underground song that befits any 2013 alternative music playlist.
That “quite liked” turned far more intense following their ridiculously titled sophomore release, I Like It When You Sleep, For You are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Apparently this title was a quote that resembled something Healy had said to a romantic partner once.
Naming this something so bizarre was not only good publicity, but by their own admission it created an environment where there were no real boundaries. It freed them up musically to produce whatever they wanted as the album title demanded something as interesting as itself. When you have a name so silly & brash it surely allows your music to be just as bold. That was the idea. And the result.
Lead single ‘Love Me’ is about navigating his growing fame - following the success of their debut - and it’s an instant talking point. It was just the sort of in-your-face-pop that would go on to divide people instantly, and it had the perfect accompanying video. The band can be seen prancing around in a room, Healy kissing cardboard cutouts of Harry Styles and acting like an obnoxious popstar.
This tag is something that has followed him around all his career and he’s contributed partly to that, half-knowingly and partly putting his foot in it with controversial comments. He’s as good a quote-producer as either of the Gallagher brothers. Indeed, so much so that some of his own descriptions of his music has fed naturally into how I have worded certain phrases in this piece.
No one loves his band more than he does, and he articulates himself so well that it is hard not to paraphrase/plagiarise his words when trying to convey my own thoughts on The 1975 in general. But some of his statements have brought a backlash from other artists, such as Liam Fray and Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds. In some cases, he has apologised, and in others he has doubled down or ignored the furore.
This all being said, his frontman presence on stage is both authentic and deconstructed. He can be naturally energetic and camp then in the next breath be over the top. He plays on tropes too with a thrust of his hips and a wink to the camera. He’s completely self-aware that he’s recycling old moves from the likes of Mick Jagger. He holds a mirror up to how bizarre it is to be the desired frontman of a popular group.
Healy even went through a spell of entering festival stages by welcoming them as “everyone’s favourite band”, tongue firmly in cheek as he knew that in those mixed crowds there were as many haters as adorers. He dons his character of postmodern popstar on stage, having fun with the crowd one minute and the next passionately delivering his thoughts on topics such as abortion or the latest school shootings.
There is no getting away from the fact he divides opinion. When the band broke through, he was so brash that people made their opinions on him straight away - love or loathe. And in this age, it is hard to be convinced to U-turn even when confronted with a different side to him or new music of theirs that you may connect more with.
Let me try to highlight his affable nature. Matty, as he will now sometimes be referred to for the rest of this piece, has always been vocal against paid meet & greets with fans. This new phenomenon has become normalised in pop music but he completely ripped apart its greedy nature of taking advantage of fans.
When Matty later went on to check himself into rehab for drug addiction issues a few years on, the rest of the band paid his fees. This shows their family-like relationship of looking after one another. It is the reason they are unlikely to have your archetypal Rock 'n' Roll dramatic breakup – they are lifelong friends, after all.
ILIWYS had so many brilliant singles. ‘Somebody Else’ was a synth-pop number that was beautiful but incredibly sad, lyrically expressing picturing your ex with another person. ‘A Change of Heart’ was a slow, left-field ballad that fans welcomed, where Healy is almost crooning lyrics (“And then you took a picture of your salad, and put it on the internet”).
The eclectic album tracks really made me fall in love with them though. ‘If I Believe You’ sees Healy confirm he is an atheist who would prefer to have faith, ‘Nana’ and ‘She Lays Down’ are heartbreaking songs about the passing of his Nan and his mum’s post-natal depression respectively. And they explored ambient music too on the title track & ‘Please Be Naked’, a genre they would later master.
Perhaps the greatest song on there though is ‘The Sound’, a constant in their encores that have followed. It is an unapologetic glossy pop song with a backing choir in for the choruses. Healy even delves into his wordy verse best with lyrics such as: “It's not about reciprocation it's just all about me. A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe.”
During live performances the crowd are demanded to jump up and down on the count of four as the guitar solo hits in big time. Fast forward to their coming-of-age Headline slot at Reading & Leeds in 2019 and it was their closing track & one of the happiest, purest moments of my life. I bounced up and down with a dear friend to that insane solo as the song buzzed its way out, amongst thousands of other adoring fans who had witnessed their little weird “year band” become modern day icons.
Although ILIWYS might still be my favourite album of theirs emotionally, it was the critically acclaimed Brits-winning follow up that is perhaps their greatest musically. Standing at just under an hour, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships explores the impact of the internet on our lives. Each song completely different to the one previous yet somehow maintains a theme throughout. For context, by the time this was released I was already a bona fide fanboy.
I had dived deeper into their earlier material, and listened to all of their pre-album EPs that played a part in their early popularity. The EPs included early renditions of tracks that would define their self-titled, but there was also raw brilliance too. There was indie banger ‘Milk’, addictive number ‘So Far, It’s Alright’, and love song ‘Fallingforyou’.
‘Antichrist’ also featured, which is a fan favourite about religion that the band never play at gigs for a somewhat unclear reason. Discovering these nuggets of gold in their early days, as well as even finding intriguing YouTube videos of tracks they released under their earlier name Drive Like I Do, meant I was eating out of the palm of their hands by album three.
Every album has begun with them essentially checking in for the listener with ‘The 1975’ - the same track remixed. The one on Brief Inquiry lured you in with soft piano before exploding into Bon Iver-like vocoder vocals. Joy Division-lifting lead single ‘Give Yourself A Try’ displays urgency as well as representing a change of direction into upbeat, abrasive guitar lines. A left turn is taken straight away into ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’, an auto-tuned track about infidelity in a sound that you’d expect from Drake rather than an alternative band from Manchester.
The production on this record went up a notch, not least thanks to drummer George Daniel graduating into a world class producer. He and Healy are said to bounce off each other in the studio and produce perfectly in tandem.
Their perhaps most defining song ‘Love It If We Made It’ is an apt example of the improvement in production levels. It might be one of my favourite songs of all-time. On top of Daniel’s booming, punchy beat, Healy wrote lyrics mainly by citing depressing news stories and events that were taking place around him. Shouting Donald Trump’s sexual predator line: “I MOVED ON HER LIKE A BITCH” encapsulates the anger of the song, and I challenge anyone to listen to it and not feel *something* from it if they had the lyrics to hand.
If ABIIOR was the perfect album format, Notes On A Conditional Form (2020) was almost disdainful towards it with a hefty run time of 1hr 21mins. Despite this, it is still fantastic. Its huge length makes it difficult to frequently revisit in a full runthrough, as it commands a slot in your day rather than accompanying you on your commute to or from work.
Thankfully, no time on the album is wasted, whether it’s them allowing climate activist Greta Thunberg to hijack their usually set-in-stone opening track ‘The 1975’ or the instrumentals that build cinematic tension (‘The End/Music For Cars & ‘Streaming’, flowing seamlessly into ‘The Birthday Party’).
Matty said he wanted to formalise Thunberg’s activism in pop culture in the opener. This song was aptly released on one of the hottest UK days of the year in 2019. Fast forward three years, I write this in the latest UK heatwave where our highest ever temperature of over 40C was recorded. If you want to channel your frustration at the ignorance of those in power towards global warming, this is the one to listen to.
‘People’ was released worldwide just one day before the band took the stage in the aforementioned headline set at Reading in ‘19. It was, as was becoming habit with them, a complete switchup from the norm. It was a punk song. A hard hitting, shouty punk song. Healy channels a gothic look in the music video, and screams “STOP F***ING WITH THE KIDS” in a huge opening statement for NOACF.
At the time, it was the first and only instalment of an album that was initially intended to be fully released before the Reading slot. But they kept pushing it back due to time constraints (they were ambitiously writing it on the road as they toured its predecessor). It was worth the wait though when it eventually dropped in the early-pandemic world in May 2020.
‘If You’re Too Shy’ is a beautiful nod to the 80s that could slot into their self-titled debut stylistically speaking. The best 1-2 punch on the record is ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’ & ‘Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied’. Essentially, they are both RnB tracks and Healy even starts off with rap-like flow on ‘Nothing Revealed’… Another example of why you should expect the unexpected with them. A lovely start-up piano draws you in before he admits: “I never f***ed in a car, I was lying I do it in my bed lying down not trying Apathy for me is an issue you see I just talk about the things upsetting me”
The first line is a factcheck on the opening line of ‘Love It If We Made It’, where he described himself “f***ing in a car, shooting heroin.” It’s these sort of self-referential nods – which can be seen also in ‘Roadkill’ where he bemoans not taking lyrical advice from festival favourite ‘Robbers’ – and so-called easter eggs that make being a fan of the band so enjoyable, exciting & most importantly: Not boring.
The 1975 somehow are my most fun band to listen to in two very opposing ways: listening to their albums in order, and alternatively shuffling my entire downloaded library of theirs. The former allows me to appreciate the artistry as they intended it & enjoy the flow of each record. With there honed talent of creating instrumentals that bleed beautifully into a “proper” track, this is the best way of consuming them.
Every now and again though, the other route is as good and arguably the most fun. You simply shuffle their songs & admire the eclectic nature of their discography. It’s genuinely crazy some of the genre switches you can get from one song to the next. I’ve never been surer they’re the best band on the planet than when I do this. You could end up with a playlist style flow to it, an order that arguably works better than their real placings or receive an almost incompatible back-to back.
For example, euphoric emo song about death, ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ could play straight after mid-tempo crooning ballad ‘A Change Of Heart’. I was gifted a cracker of a one-two recently: folk rock-ish ‘Part of the Band’ followed, in stark contrast, by house track ‘Shiny Collarbone’ which features vocals from Jamaican dancehall artist Cutty Ranks. If nothing else, it makes you respect the pure talent they possess to produce different types of music.
After watching a good live gig, you often leave the venue with a feeling of invincibility and an adrenaline rush. With The 1975 you have these familiar things when you depart but like very few others, they also make you believe the world can become a better place. As cheesy as that sounds, it is a rare ability they have in doing this to not just me but thousands of people.
They captivate their audience and when you do that with music that can be politically charged, it means you can have a huge impact. And at the very least, you can create an unrivalled therapeutic experience where everyone involved can channel their anger and frustration at grievances both on global and personal levels.
At time of writing, in a few days’ time they will be offering their second single from Being Funny in a Foreign Language. I sit here not knowing what genre it could be, what type of lyrics they could include, if any, or even whether it’ll be my cup of tea. But that is precisely why I love them. It is not rock music, it is music with the essence and culture of rock.
They are unpredictable. They are exciting. They are now masters of their craft. They are back. They are, The 1975.