For those who are familiar with The 1975’s work, the group’s newest project, Notes On A Conditional Form, is business as usual for the English pop-rock band. And in today’s economy, business has never been better.
Having dropped a whopping eight singles leading up to its delayed release, The 1975 today dropped their fourth full-length album today, signaling the end of the band’s self-proclaimed “Music For Cars” era. With Notes, The 1975 does what they do best: produce an eclectic mix of songs steeped in generational uneasiness, anxiety, and self-doubt.
Frankly, the conditions have never been better for the band’s signature sound, which has nearly been perfected since their 2016 release I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. With the entire world rocked by COVID-19, agitation is at an all-time high, and we find ourselves at a crossroads between economic stability and public health. The pandemic has descended at a time when we’re experiencing widespread exhortation for political and social change, and the very identity of our world is in jeopardy.
All that’s to say that Notes is an emotional manifestation of the era that we find ourselves in. Take the album’s opening track, featuring a climate crisis monologue from young activist Greta Thunberg. For the first time, The 1975 deviates from their standard album introduction across the first three albums. Greta’s monologue, eloquent in its brevity and delivery, prophesizes “untold sufferings” for billions if we don’t change our ways. Dismal, yet powerful.
What immediately follows is the in-your-face track, “People.” While Greta’s monologue portrays a generation’s stern dissatisfaction with authority, “People” represents the emotional irrationality that comes with realizing that shit is not okay, and nothing is being done about it. Muddled with expletives, “People” is brazen, explosive, and quite an outlier sonically from the rest of the album.
“The Birthday Party” recalls the self-centered narcissism we’ve come to know (and love) from frontman Matty Healy. Unequivocally the anchor of the band, he sounds older here. His self-pitying tendencies are there, but there’s a somber, softer edge to them this time around. His rockstar surroundings have stayed the same: in this case, he finds himself wasted at a birthday party, but he’s growing weary of his self-indulgent, impulsive lifestyle. Skipping past “Yeah I Know,” an unnecessary addition on a lengthy album, we arrive at “Then Because She Goes,” a dreamy song that, while pleasant, doesn’t really find its footing.
Even though it was released as the sixth single, “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” is a clear standout on the album. The song features The 1975’s first-ever guest appearance from Phoebe Bridgers, who shines, despite having only a short verse. Together, Matty and Phoebe serenade us from the perspectives of individuals who have to hide their same-sex attractions because of their religious affiliations. Although its tone comes off as adolescent, the song is beautiful in its simplicity, and pointedly poses the question of how empathetic religious institutions can truly be. Bridgers’ voice has been lent on a whopping four songs across the album. It continues onto the next track, titled “Roadkill,” a song so steeped in a country twang glam, Kacey Musgraves would be jealous. “Roadkill” brings an entirely new, unpolished sound to the band.
Around the halfway mark of an outrageously long, 80-minute album is “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied,” a track that finds Matty taking “a wrecking ball to his own ego.” The very first line is “I never fucked in a car, I was lying,” an obvious nod to the opening line on “Love It If We Made It,” a song from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
“Playing On My Mind” is more or less the B-side song of “Jesus Christ 2005,” another ode to Matty’s existential confusion and identity. At this point in the album, Notes begins to lose its hard-hitting appeal, and most of the album’s peak points are behind us. “Having No Head” is, for lack of a better term, a six-minute filler of electronic bells and whistles: a prime example of The 1975’s continued insistence to weave interludes throughout all of their albums.
“What Should I Say,” supported by backup vocals from FKA Twigs, is a song that Matty says has “fucking haunted” him for years, leading us to assume the song has been reworked several times for as long as it’s been an idea. The album reaches its end with two final songs, “Don’t Worry” and “Guys.” “Don’t Worry” is both gentle and sorrowful. While the full context is concealed, Matty’s voice is distorted and drawn out when he sings about a darkness that seems to be ever-present. It’s also a song with a surprise guest featured as a duet partner—Matty’s father, Tim.
“Guys,” on the other hand, takes a hard-right turn and is a wonderful way to close out the “Music For Cars” era. Perhaps unremarkable to the casual listener, “Guys” is a love song laced with reverie that longtime fans will appreciate. Matty recounts the band’s formative years with fondness (“the first time we went to Japan…”) and proclaims that the decision to start The 1975 was “the best thing that ever happened.”
All in all, The 1975 quite simply delivers on Notes on a Conditional Form. The band holds no reservations, cashing in on their ‘80s pop-rock appeal to create songs that could conceivably be destined for mainstream radio play (see: “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”), while sprinkling in genre-bending experimentation across the album. So many songs on Notes are layered with sheer vulnerability, hedonism, and narcissism that it’s enough to make you roll your eyes at times. And while some artistic growth from the band is evident, it was limited overall. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for The 1975. They manage to stay true to the sound that has created them while capturing the defining ideas, mood, and convictions of an entire generation.
Notes On A Conditional Form is out now.