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Published on January 31st, 2019 | by voxx


The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

Matty Healy and co’s dazzling distillation of the modern era…

It’s always inspiring when a band puts its head into the mouth of the modern world and attempts to express, over the course of an album, how it feels to be alive at a particular moment in time. It’s difficult not to be didactic, impersonal or desperately vogueish, and it’s a mark of The 1975’s audacity that their third album invites comparison to the most revered of those albums. Like Radiohead’s OK Computer, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships features a deadpan digital monologue about a man’s vexed relationship with technology. Characteristically, The 1975’s version is a tragicomedy about a man called @snowflakesmasher86, set to the kind of festive orchestration you hear when someone dies in a Pixar movie. It’s called ‘The Man Who Married A Robot’, the robot being the internet.

A Brief Inquiry… isn’t strictly an album about the internet – it’s also about love, infidelity, heroin, rehab, irony, sincerity, suicide and hope – but it’s indelibly shaped by the online experience. ‘Love It If We Made It’, a breathless ticker-tape of headlines, slogans and tweets, may recall R.E.M.’s ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’, but in 1987 you would have had to zap through myriad TV channels to approximate Michael Stipe’s information overload. In 2018, that’s how we comprehend the world without even trying: in a stimulating, bewildering, never-ending stream of data.

The 1975’s intuitive post-genre approach to music-making is similarly modern. Clocking in at just under an hour, A Brief Inquiry… has all the diversity of 2016’s extravagant I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, but none of the slack. The album’s final run, for example, recalls the smoky jazz of Chet Baker, George Michael’s blue-eyed soul, and the kind of soaring, compassionate rock song that Radiohead haven’t made since The Bends. Frontman Matty Healy and drummer George Daniel’s glittering, sensuous production ties it all together, along with wiry new wave, jaunty Auto-Tuned house, prickly electronica and more. For The 1975, the medium is the message: there’s a lot to take in.

The other unifying thread is Healy’s palpable need to communicate. “Would you please listen?” he pleads on ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’, while ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ explicitly repudiates the kind of self-aware gags that used to take the edge off his confessions. Healy refuses to choose between popularity and intimacy. ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ sounds like a glitteringly perfect hit that fell through a wormhole in 1985 and has only just emerged, even as it grapples with addiction and the need to “distract my brain from the terrible news”. ‘Inside Your Mind’ is a grand, devotional ballad with a sinister, obsessive streak. All the tactical compromises that most bands of this size would make at this stage are defiantly rejected.

Healy has credited The 1975’s smart, curious fanbase with inspiring the band to go further, and it’s no surprise they’ve earned that kind of following. With his racing brain and bursting heart, he is one of pop’s few true believers, driven to make music that both reflects and relieves the anxiety that buzzes around his head, and ours. It’s that burning conviction that makes A Brief Inquiry… feel not just hugely entertaining and moving, but necessary.

- By Jake White

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