Released: 30th November 2018
The 1975 don’t lack in ambition. While their self-titled debut album may have received the odd mauling from a music press unprepared for what the band would go on to become, it built the devoted following that propelled its follow up – 2016’s ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ – into the stratosphere. With a 180 degree flip on the wider perceptions of the group, it was a revelation that challenged those previous judgements and won.
When it comes to a third full-length, nobody would blame The 1975 if they took the obvious route. ‘I like it when you sleep…’ had a defining vibe running through its core – much copied but rarely perfected by their peers. While they experimented around the edges, to replicate what worked so well last time around would be met with little complaint, either commercially or critically.
The fact that ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ never once takes the easy way out is exactly why The 1975 are a band impossible to ape. The first of two records under the ‘Music For Cars’ umbrella, it isn’t just a great album – it’s a generation-defining masterpiece. Refusing to succumb to expectations, it’d be obvious to label it part poptimist contender to Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, part millennial ‘OK Computer’. In truth, though, it’s both, and yet so much more.
Skipping through the dial, each track has its own rulebook, but against all odds, they hang together effortlessly. Never difficult without cause, nor so simplistic it runs out of new avenues to explore, it’s an exposition on the modern condition, every moment revealing something telling about the world around us.
But then, from the first glimpse, ‘A Brief Inquiry…’ has been more than just a simple collection of songs. Introduced over a month-long period of posters, social media teasers and hidden online puzzles, nothing about it seems to be without logic or reason. A celebration of the genre-bled mixing bowl of youth culture in 2018, it’s a record that steadfastly refuses to stick in a single lane. ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’’s tropical bop is a million miles from their expected turf, and yet when placed against the atmospheric stabs of ‘How To Draw / Petrichor’, that juxtaposition only becomes even more stark. Glitching and tripping like Thom Yorke interfacing with Kanye’s rogue autotuner, it lends further stock to frontman Matty Healy’s claim that no other arena-sized band currently dare be as musically interesting as The 1975. That so much of that fascination comes from the rolling, eclectic soundboards of drummer and production mastermind George Daniel only furthers their brilliance.
Those deliberately diverse, constant shifts are one of the cornerstones of what makes ‘A Brief Inquiry…’ such a remarkable listen. ‘Be My Mistake’ is a slow-burning acoustic heartbreaker, while ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’ is a slice of modern, urban R&B pop that drips with nighttime chill. ‘Mine’ is crooning lounge jazz, a tale of fighting crime online recounted in a silk dressing gown, while ‘I Couldn’t Be More In Love’ is a lighters-in-the-air ballad for the ages. On the one track where the band revert to type – the brilliantly addictive ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ – they sound fresher and more exciting than ever before, holding back that expected big pay off for maximum effect.
As with all great records, though, there’s a spine running through ‘A Brief Inquiry’ that provides the framework upon which these individual moments hang. ‘The Man Who Married A Robot’, narrated by Apple’s Siri, is a modern parable about oversharing, confirmation bias and pictures of penises, full of flourishes that no other band of this scale would even think to include. Followed by the epic rawness of ‘Inside Your Mind’, it’s a one-two that plays on every thought and emotion.
When it comes to heart, closer ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ has it in spades. While much of ‘A Brief Inquiry’ draws on unexpected influences, the album’s last moments are unashamed stadium-sized guitar pop. Twinkling on the verses, rising on the chorus, by the time it reaches its final, climactic key change there’s nothing left in reserve.
Above and beyond everything else, though, is ‘A Brief Inquiry…’’s undeniable soul. ‘Love It If We Made It’ isn’t so much an album highlight as an anthem for the ages. A running consciousness of political and cultural breakdown delivered over an empowered stab of sweeping, stabbing synths, what could have seemed trite becomes almost shockingly powerful. More than that, it could only have come from The 1975.
‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ is an album of disparate, daring parts. A record that rewards repeated listens, and yet is immediate enough to make an impact on the first play-through; even its rare flaws become winning moments. But beyond that, it’s also a work that’s so much more than its individual elements. The sparks between those genre shifts generate an energy of their own – a jukebox of ideas that feels fresher and more essential than it has any right to be. In many ways, ‘A Brief Inquiry…’ is the ultimate endgame of playlist culture moulded to the strengths of the album format. In itself, it’s remarkable. To think that there’s a second instalment to come in double quick time is almost obscene. It’s a good job The 1975 don’t lack in ambition, because right now, it feels like they could do anything.