(5 / 5)
Out today (22nd May 2020), The 1975’s fourth album – follow-up to the 2019 Brits Album of the Year “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”.
“Notes On A Conditional Form”, delivers a whacking 22 tracks, and will probably be a bit of a Marmite moment for some – with its throw-back to 70s concept-albums approach as regards the scattering of orchestral instrumental interludes, and far less electro-synth moments than usual.
For many others it will be hailed as a masterpiece. Epic. A work of art. What do we make of it at Music Republic Magazine? Read on…..
Well, first of all, the band’s green credentials are in-tact, insisting the record is not shrink-wrapped, making sure as little plastic as possible is used in the manufacturing process.
The tradition of a self-titled instrumental track to open each of their previous three albums is sustained here, with no less than Greta Thunberg given a voice for the duration of the track.
Greta reels off a passionate monologue about how f*cked (not her words!) the planet is – with tinkling piano and synth as a backdrop – and how we all need to pay attention to the climate change crisis before it is too late.
Her final words as the track comes to a close after four minutes and 57 seconds, is a call to arms: “It is time to rebel”. Greta is not wrong, but please go rebel in your own house or garden for now, folks!.
Matthew Healy, George Daniel, Ross MacDonald and Adam Hann formed The 1975 18 years ago in Cheshire and now base themselves in Manchester. They had a hard act to follow after the success of their last three albums, with all going to number one in the UK chart.
Gold and Platinum status for their albums and singles, selling above six million units and clocking up more than 5.5 BILLION streams globally and circa 1.4 Billion YouTube and Vevo views. They have won or been nominated for an array of awards – include two Grammy nominations.
They attract 11.5 million listeners on Spotify EACH MONTH!!!! They have sold more than two million concert tickets so far. Their last two albums each shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, and in 2019 they won two Ivor Novello Awards for their song writing. The 1975 have had 10 UK Top 40 singles, including four in the Top 20.
The new album was recorded in a bunch of different studios, much of it while the band were on tour, but it’s an even listen as regards the mixes and the consistency of quality.
It is what we critics call a “long awaited” release, as this was originally planned as a double album and pushed back and back across a few years. 80 minutes. 22 tracks. Six singles preceding the album. So, what do we get and is it any good?
After they open their account with “The 1975” and Greta’s rallying cry, we get “People”, a very unusual choice for a single. “Wake up, wake up, wake up”, he yells….It’s raucous and menacing….The guitar slices through like razor blades on paper, and the F-bomb (with an ‘ing’ on the end) hits you in the ears. It is shouty, aggressive, loud and not like their usual stuff.
“Music For Cars”, offers up dream-like strings and synths, on a semi-classical instrumental; conjuring up an early morning, misty scene by water with dew on the trees and grass, and the wildlife just waking up….You’d not know it is The 1975.
“Frail State Of Mind” goes some way to remedy any confusion. Mesmeric with a real groove. Really cool track. Then another ethereal semi-classical, music-only interlude – lasting one minute and 33 seconds – called “Streaming”, which almost sounds like the orchestral warm-up and tuning from the pit at any classical concert.
“The Birthday Party”, takes up organic instruments for the first time thus far on the album, with a mid-tempo drum track and that snare crisp as heck. Another chilled cut. Lovely vocal. Great swaying feel, swooping, weeping guitars lending a slight country flavour.
“Yeah I Know”, has something different about it, with an organ-like synth drone, side snare with the clicking sticks drum track, pitch shifted vocal passages and almost Kraftwerk-like at times. A very avant-garde semi-instrumental. Goes on a bit at 13 seconds above four minutes.
The guitars are back for “Then Because She Goes”. The pace is then slowed with the folky, 70s, West Coast style “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”, where Phoebe Bridgers pops up for a lovely duet with Matty.
More like CSN&Y than The 1975, but quite beautiful with a calming, serene ambience built around acoustic guitar, (and there might be mandolin or something else in there). Wispy vocals. Twangy guitars kick off the country rock meets pop of “Roadkill”. Another harmony-soaked American-sounding cut that earns its keep, and features Phoebe Bridgers again.
More like their usual sound on the alt. folk-tinged “Me & You Together Song”. It also has that jingly jangly, care-free sound that bands such The Stone Roses, The La’s and The Mock Turtles used to get. A fab track which I am about to replay as it is so damn good.
“I Think There’s Something You Should Know”, sits on a drum ‘n bass vibe, with a nice groove. Matty’s breathy vocal sometimes reminding me of one of my favourite vocalists, Green Gartside from Scritti Politti.
“Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied”, features ensemble chorus parts, on this soulful, ready-made anthem. You’ll be singing “Is there anybody out there”, after a couple of listens. Love the guitar parts and the effect they use.
More soul vibes on “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)”, before the club banger “Shiny Collarbone”, which vibes into dubstep and features Jamaican dance hall artist Cutty Rank on vocals. Boost the bottom end and turn it up LOUD.
“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”, with guest FKA Twigs sprinkling some vocal stardust, slots into the familiar synth pop trademark sound of The 1975. Most commercial cut so far. Rasping sax solo a la the late and great Clarence Clemons of The E-Street Band. Vintage 80s and 90s L.A. flavours, on a track ready-made for stadiums.
A gentle, almost Simon and Garfunkel flavour to the sensitive acoustic offering “Playing On My Mind”. A gem. “Having No Head”, the longest cut here at six minutes and five seconds; is another non-vocal track, a classical-meets-Ibeeefa chill-out. Very neat.
The next track, “What Should I Say”, is a mystery to me, as the digital player the record label sent me to review the album from, refused to play that one! So you tell me! But the next one did play, and “Bagsy In Net” is a bit of a monotonous mess, to my ears.
Some gorgeous piano on the penultimate cut, “Don’t Worry”, which drenches the vocal in Auto-tune effect, and the use of that is a tad over-cooked across the record, for my taste. Very pretty ballad penned by Matty’s father, beloved Geordie actor Tim Healy, when Matty was 11, and who duets on this track.
“Guys” closes the extensive set, with a mid-tempo pop rock song and a return to electric guitars and bass. A wee bit dated perhaps, and one of the less likely songs to be remembered from the 22. But the lyrical sentiment is Matty’s heartfelt tribute to the three longtime friends who he got together with in 2002, to make music with, to have fun with and to travel the world with.
I like that he committed that love letter to his mates on this recording. Does this maybe signal Matty may well be pondering his future and looking at a possible departure from the band at some point? Hope not.
Even though this band rely heavily on synth and programmed sounds, this record delivers a real live sound, and the production values make sure that guitars sound like guitars and the drums sound like drums, nothing polished too clean and sanitised.
The band have taken risks and seemingly not allowed outside forces to dictate the direction of this slight departure from their usual trademark sound. But even some loyal fans who have dearly awaited album number four will probably not dig all 22 tracks here, and will probably be skipping over the “interlude” instrumentals after one listen.
One sniffy reviewer from a UK national ‘paper slams the album as “a parade of smug self indulgence” and says “each track grates against the next like rusted gears”. Ouch! It gets awarded just one of five stars.
Well, I believe what we have here is the band being true to themselves. Yes, maybe the overblown instrumental interludes are self indulgent and add little value and are a delay from getting to the good stuff….But no one died! The record strokes and purrs one minute, prods and snarls the next.
Are they smug? If I’d have achieved half of what these boys have in my career, maybe I’d have earned the right to be a wee bit smug. For smug see “WYHIWYG”. (What you hear is what you get – take it or leave it!)
Surely they have earned creative freedom, to push the envelope and not stick to a formula. To not regurgitate what has come before and just fulfil contractual obligations. There are real flashes of brilliance here. There’s far too much mediocrity churned out today in music, believe me. I hear dozens of that stuff every day. But there’s nothing mediocre about this, no Sir!
That said; it is not an instant winner either. Not going for hit singles and shoo-in radio spins. I believe it needs to be heard a few times and in full, and each track in context. A grower.
“Dare to be different and to hell with it”, could be the mission statement with this album. Well it is and they are! Got a crisp £20 note here that says this wins them a Grammy. Wanna bet?
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’