On the first track of The 1975’s hotly anticipated fourth studio album, the universally recognised voice of Greta Thunberg rings out claiming “we do not have everything under control”. Despite the title track being released nearly a year ago, these words sadly seem more relevant now than ever. ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’ has been a frustrating wait, with its initial release pushed back, yet it seems Matty Healy and his band have picked exactly the right time. The new album features an eclectic mix of twenty-two tracks from symphonic to screamo, chaotically placed, seemingly a perfect mirror for the situation we find ourselves in today.
The 1975 are a band who have thrived on the ‘shock factor’ and have engaged a generation of fans from angsty teens through to politically engaged young adults. The latest album is no change to their ability to continuously break out from any sort of box they have found themselves placed in. Whilst their previous album ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ saw a move away from their brand and logo with much more experimentation, fans will find this even more in their new album.
These observations are not necessarily all praise. Many fans will be disappointed with the insular nature of the album, arguably reflecting what the band themselves want to create rather than what the fans want to hear. Those who still look for popular grunge beats and lyrics will have to search harder than ever before amongst the twenty-two tracks. The catchy singles ‘If You’re Too Shy’ and ‘Me & You Together Song’ present a stark divergence amongst the rest of the album, not the defining feature.
The tracks themselves are of varying successes. The purpose of the album is clearly to reflect uncertainty and chaos but after all, the tracks need to continue to be an enjoyable listen for fans.
In some ways the contrast of the albums’ tracks hits the right note. Whilst Greta Thunberg’s powerful but muted speech titles the album, the following single ‘People’ immediately throws the listener into an angry long list of societal failings. Whilst Greta speaks softly, Matty Healy screams down the microphone that we “just need to stop watching s*** in bed!”. The more jarring contrasts come from ‘Streaming’ and ‘Having No Head’. These purely instrumental tracks provide breaks within the album, creating a kind of ‘white noise’ effect. Some like ‘Bagsy Not in Net’ simply feel like an unnecessary addition.
Despite the album often feeling to descend into unpredictable disarray, some of the best tracks on the album reflect this anarchy in a subtle way. The work of ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ is perhaps one of the greatest triumphs. The vulnerable melody (featuring Phoebe Bridgers), is offset with a powerful message. Whilst in ‘Me & You Together Song’ Matty quips, “It’s okay, lots of people think I’m gay… But we’re friends so it’s cool, why would it not be?”. In this more raw track he discusses the complex relationship between religion and sexuality for young suburban men and women.
The track ‘Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied’, perhaps my personal favourite from the album, speaks candidly that “life feels like a lie”, asking “is there anybody out there?”. There is something in this piece which proves that the band can still resonate with its young fans, without becoming stale. The openness of admitting, “I never f****d in a car I was lying, I do it on my bed, laying down not trying” seems much more honest than the nonconformity expected from ‘rock and roll’ culture.
In many ways, an initial listen to this new album may leave fans a little perplexed and disappointed. There are no real new ‘radio’ hits that hadn’t already been released as singles and a large handful of the tracks have no lyrics nor real sense to them at all. Perhaps in this way, The 1975’s fourth album won’t be their most popular nor critically acclaimed. In some ways it feels the band’s attempts at ‘uniqueness’ have left them with no real grounding for a complete album.
Yet, with this album, The 1975 have proved once again their continued commitment to engage with a whole youthful generation (and maybe even a few parents). This time is perhaps their most honest and stripped-back attempt. Whilst many bands and artists continue to present a sugar-coated image of what it means to be ‘young and free’, The 1975 have summed up the feelings of confusion which have defined millennial culture. One has to question how clean and polished an album attempting this tough feat could ever have been.
Notes On A Conditional Form is out now through Dirty Hit and Polydor Records.