Ambitious, heartfelt and completely willing to fall flat on its face, The 1975’s third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, is a testament to how taking big risks can pay off.
On first listen this may seem to be a confusing record. From the Post-Punk echoes of Give Yourself a Try, to the dancehall beats of ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ and the ambience at the start of ‘How to Draw/Petrichor’, The 1975 explicitly assert themselves as a band that isn’t comfortable staying in one lane. The album is almost structured like a playlist on shuffle, but the self-awareness of these juxtapositions mean that the switching of soundscapes and genre never feels too jarring. In spite of its hour-long runtime, the album feels surprisingly short – partly thanks to how different each song is from the last.
It is in the lyrical content, however, where the album finds the force that binds it together. Matty Healy has done a remarkable job ensuring the lyrics feel both universal and also deeply personal. For example, the track ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ plays as a sentimental love song, but has darker undertones that hint toward the singer’s addiction to heroin – a personal issue that is presented in a way that audiences can digest. It’s difficult to talk about lyrics without mentioning the monumental song ‘Love It If We Made It’. From the melodramatic synth violin jabs that would sound comfortable on a The Blue Nile record, to the current and political lyricism, the song forms a powerful collage of our time. This particular track showcases The 1975’s fearlessness, being unafraid to challenge listeners to contemplate every word, one where the tension is released into a euphoric chorus only after two minutes of near claustrophobic intensity, something other bands may be too timid to attempt.
On the whole, though the album occasionally goes left-field – take ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’ for example – it never loses sight of its pop sensibilities. The Neo-Jazz numbers such as ‘Sincerity is Scary’ and the beautiful ‘Mine’ are definitely highlights of the record, the former clearly taking lyrical and thematic influence from David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest – the book also being the inspiration for the title ‘Surrounded By Heads And Bodies’. While the album is endlessly clever, it’s true power lies in its overt sentimentality and sincerity. For every joke or clever twist there’s something heartfelt and profound to counteract it. The line “But what about these feelings I’ve got” from the penultimate track feels particularly pertinent to this theme of sincerity, given it’s frank and strained delivery.
The 1975 have crafted an album that will outlive them. They’ve captured a moment in our culture; one that is confusing, contradictory and full of desperate heartfelt attempts to provide an answer. It’s an album that never lets up and is consistently surprising.