Reviewed – The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

Rating – 2/5

I’ll start by saying I am a fan of the 1975, and think their albums have been creative and of quality so far. Of course, this means new projects carry pressure and when seeing the, let’s say, ‘mixed’ feelings for the new album, I was ready for a departure from what’s gone before.

The first thing to reinforce this expectation comes before you’ve started listening; ’22 songs, 1 hr 20 min’. Right, ok, let’s stay open-minded…

The first track continues to stray from previous albums by losing the opening credits ‘go down, soft sound’ that we’ve come to expect. At nearly 5 minutes, it’s also the longest version of the track to date, which, in hindsight, should’ve been a sign of what’s to come.

We then have the first single, ’People’. A new vocal approach from Matty Healy and a dip into punkier stylings makes this a welcome addition to the catalog. We’re given an exciting new shell to the energetic social commentaries we’re familiar with and it works well.  

The record doesn’t take long to follow with two more singles; ‘Frail State of Mind’ and ‘The Birthday Party’. The first being reminiscent of ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ with hypnotic sample loops and manipulated vocals and the second being the album’s first delve into a country-ish, acoustic landscape. Both however, feel like they’re lacking in dynamics and feel quite static.  

The acoustic vibe is reinstated with ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’. Strong vocals from both Matty Healy and Pheobe Bridgers with a mix of precise and conversational lyrics set to a sonically pleasing accompaniment make this one of the album’s successes. A similar approach is taken for ‘Roadkill’ which could be set to a montage in an American Pie film without anyone batting an eyelid. ‘Me and You Together Song’ is as ‘classic 1975’ as this album gets – an upbeat guitar track with a first-person storyline reminiscent of the first two albums. This feels like the album’s safe bet, which is probably a smart move now that we are thirty minutes in.

Orchestral flavors and eighties vibes combine effectively on ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’. After a few slower songs, you feel relieved to have something that can be enjoyed effortlessly. Although not their catchiest song of this kind, it does fill the purpose previously covered by ‘She’s American’ and ‘The Sound’.

The penultimate song, ‘Don’t Worry’ is an example of how well this band can pull off ballads. This waltz-time piano tune feels timeless without sounding dated. Lyrically, it shares its incentive with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘You’ve Got A Friend’. This, I think, the record’s hidden gem.

‘Guys’ is a great choice to close this album. It’s a retrospective and comparatively up-tempo song that’s wholesome and relatable. Essentially a love song of friendship, it’s easily understood with some very specific lyrics and paints a nice closing picture that at the end of a fourth album, the personal foundations of the 1975 remain strong. Aw.

All in all, we come full circle with the album’s biggest problem; ’22 songs, 1 hr 20 min’. This is film territory – only without the visuals, characters, and dialogue to keep us engaged. The stray from normality feels more like hard work for the listener than it does rewarding. Some tracks are unmentioned as, despite having their moments, they were forgettable and primarily slowed the album down.

Certain tracks also lost their opportunity to shine. ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’ has enjoyable nods to the previous record both lyrically and in production and works well as an album track. However, after two instrumentals, some “forgettables” and tracks that are as much production flexes as songs, it doesn’t get the best of your patience. ‘Playing On My Mind’ suffers similarly. You feel you’d have enjoyed it more if you hadn’t heard what came before.

I wouldn’t call it ‘self-indulgence’, but maybe the premise of this ‘Conditional Form’ sets us down an undesirable path. The title also makes me wonder if this is all intentional – like the ‘lost in the wilderness forty minutes in’ feeling is what they wanted. Who knows.

Here’s my recommendation; listen through to it in its entirety, and again after a day or two. Then create your own playlist of the album – maybe we have to trim the fat ourselves? You’d have an album’s worth of cherry-picked music and I’d say you’d still be able to think of yourself as a ‘proper fan’. Even then, it’s likely to be overshadowed by the previous albums, but being a victim to your own success is a desirable problem for a band to have four records into their career.

We’re told this is the last album for a while, who knows if that’s true but with four albums and endless touring since 2013, nobody can say they’ve been slacking. Maybe time apart would be good for us all – an opportunity to miss them and await their return. So for now, enjoy three good albums and an ok one.

Review by Harry Leo

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