Easily the most hyped and anticipated album of 2018, the third record from Matty, George, Adam and Ross sees The 1975 continue their path to world domination. After a social media and marketing campaign that has taken the art of building excitement and engagement to new heights, it’s now finally time for the band to show they can live up to expectations. Overwhelmingly, resoundingly, staggeringly, they do and more. As much about millennial angst as it is a brutally honest study of a young man on the brink of his 30s, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is out on its own in ambition, creativity and execution.
The early singles had such a scattergun approach, it felt like a jumbled mess of a schizophrenic record was incoming. That sense of chaos still holds true – though now seen within the wider context, themes pull everything together satisfyingly, becoming 15 tiny threads that build into one consolidated message. Whether bemoaning the ridiculousness of people who spend too much on expensive beans and seeds online, or the brutal honesty of ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’, those singles still contained every element of a big pop single in 2018-2019.
Whereas that still continues through all of A Brief Inquiry…, alongside it a fiercely experimental edge drives through much of the record, transcending anything that anybody in the genre is doing currently. ‘How To Draw / Petrichor’ is magnificent, those Radiohead comparisons starting to make sense – an inescapable Kid A vibe runs through this rework of a previous bonus track as it shifts gear into a twitchy, thumping electronic beat. The sheer confidence and bravado of a band dropping this, this early in a record, is breathtaking, even more so as they warp smoothly into the über-banger ‘Love It If We Made It’.
Even what appear to be straight-forward, stripped-back pop moments like ‘Be My Mistake’ or ‘Inside Your Mind’ contain a darkness, a sense of ‘otherness’, either within the lyrics or sound-wise. Very little gets played with a straight hand, with much of the pop sheen hiding an unmistakably-1975 level of weirdness. As the album title suggests, much of the record is obsessed with exploring relationships, how we connect (and disconnect) both from technology and ourselves. ‘The Man Who Married A Robot’ may provoke strong reactions either way, the track describing a poignant tale of our modern world – entirely voiced by Siri rather than Matty. Elsewhere, his heroin addiction is confronted head-on on ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ and ‘Surrounded By Heads and Bodies’. Light and frothy it is not.
The mood switches during the last third of the record, settling into a more comfortable groove. Though still pushing the boundaries, it largely sounds more like classic pop rather than the genre-busting that has come before. ‘Mine’ comes straight from a late night jazz bar however, Healy crooning at the piano, wondering whether it is time to settle down and find a wife. The closing ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ should come gift-wrapped with confetti and fireworks, so perfectly suited it is for the big stadium finales. Bringing the biggest, and best, pop record of the year to a close with a bang, the next question is how on earth The 1975 are going to adapt all this into a live show? That’s a question, and problem, for another day, though. For now, it’s time to bask in the moment of an exceptional record produced by a band who are stretching the limits of what a band, pop or otherwise, can achieve.