Photo Credit: Dean Chalkley
Bloated? Sure; at 80 minutes in runtime, that’s an assured assessment of The 1975’s fourth record, Notes on a Conditional Form, a companion piece to their 2018 record A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. “Bloated” seems to be the point entirely, however – that society is bloated, our perception of ourselves as a species is bloated, and our selfish tendencies that run amok and wreak havoc, are bloated. The album is a blistering critique on the state of the world (specifically the state of developed nations led by authoritarian figureheads) and our place within all the mess that’s going on. Acting in the role of “shepherd,” a Greta Thunberg monologue introduces the record and asks us to, “…please wake up and make the changes required.” The changes in question are to halt a pending ecological disaster but we’re also asked to shift our view of The 1975 in approaching this record, which is their most scattered and honest one to date.
To understand The 1975 at this point in their career trajectory – and, bear in mind, lead singer Matt Healy told NME the record “already feels like something from the past” – take a look at how the record was crafted. Three of the first five songs are orchestral overtures (along with the aforementioned Thunberg cameo) and build a sense of grand, celestial importance that is derided quickly with brash, nearly violent in-betweens. One of those in-betweens is “People”, a breakneck cannon embodying the angry confusion Healy feels about generational disparity. Much of NOACF was written and recorded on tour, and “People” is no exception. It was instated on a tour bus in Texas just after a performance in Alabama in May 2019, after HB 314 was enacted in the state, proposing a near-total ban on abortion access. Healy mentions Sonic Youth’s “Youth Against Fascism” as a reference point in channeling his what-the-f*ck-is-going-on energy on the song, and throughout the album.
Though the album is scattered, it never reads as eclectic, just distracting at times. It’s dutifully imbued with the classic identities that the band has developed, and as part of their two-album “Music For Cars” era, NOACF is a brasher, darker statement than its predecessor. The lyrics cut deeper and energy is frenetic. Healy is consistent in his willingness to piss others off through live performances and brazen answers in unconcerned interviews. Here, he finally brings that energy fully into the scope of a 1975 record, though he also brings along heaping portions of filler that leave the record feeling uncomfortably bloated. While that is indeed the point (or one of them), it can’t be denied that trimming the runtime by fifteen minutes would be an easily-accomplished task in service of the voice of the whole project.
Healy might be distracted from the outsized schedule he’s lined up for himself. For a band that already works at breakneck speed (both he and drummer George Daniel have solo records they’re working on), Healy intends to record a slew of songs the band created in a former life as Drive Like I Do, and then more new music from The 1975 will follow. Not to be dismissed for lack of trying, Healy also collaborated more intimately than ever before on this record, namely with Phoebe Bridgers.
Bridgers appears on four of the tracks: “Then Because She Goes”, a short, sweet ode indebted to Liz Phair as much as My Bloody Valentine; “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”, a scene-stealing folk romance toying with middle America’s intense repression of homosexuality; “Roadkill”, a country-light tune that sways like an early Taylor Swift cut with a little more bite; and “Playing On My Mind”, another stripped-down ode that sounds nabbed right out of Bridgers’s own discography. FKA Twigs (now dating Healy) adds nearly-imperceptible contributing vocals to “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” and “What Should I Say” – the former a staple within The 1975’s wheelhouse, and the latter a unique, house-tinged whopper that builds a delicious groove and sits among the albums finest moments.
Taken altogether in one sitting, the record is disorienting yet pleasurable; unexpected yet right in line. Healy is convinced it’s the best he’s put out, and he’s not entirely wrong. Several tracks rank among the best that The 1975 have ever released. Jamaican reggae, Americana folk, Europop, post-punk, glitchy techno, classical tropes and a sample of The Temptations collide in a messy experiment that reinforces the Manchester band’s residence among the pantheon of politically deviant, outspoken, unafraid acts that stand the test of time. Let’s collectively sit back, take a breather, and join Healy in admitting this record is now in the past.