I’ll admit it. I love the Toxic Music Critic Discourse that follows The 1975 around like a lost puppy. Take a quick look here” Too bold? Too self-indulgent? The voice of a generation? The voice of a British bloke up his own ass? They have always been a think-piece magnet.
Which is why Being Funny in a Foreign Language is disarming: the rollout of their fifth album has come with little online turmoil. Since the album announcement, there have been plenty of reasons for the music-think-piece world to ready the cannons and take aim towards Matty Healy and Co: Being Funny follows their 2020 double album Notes on a Conditional Form, which, to some (not me), is the pinnacle of their self-indulgence. Polarizing Nice Guy Jack Antonoff is involved.
Instead, the rollout was smooth. Matty is back on Twitter with some rivetingly dumb jokes. The singles were well-received. Their newest tour sold out the O2 Arena in London in hours. Against all odds, they have earned the privilege of a tranquil life as an arena-selling, festival-headlining band. It makes perfect sense that the release was refreshingly straightforward: Being Funny in a Foreign Language is the most focused The 1975 have ever been. Opting for consistency and aesthetic cohesion over sprawling tracklists, it’s the diametric opposite of Notes, for better and for worse.
As per 1975 tradition, the album begins with a track titled “The 1975.” Older intros ease the listener into the color palette of the album follow, like the fragile autotune of A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships or the Eno-esque twinkle of Notes. Funny is not subtle. It greets you immediately with urgent piano chords. It’s 2022’s update to “Love It If We Made It,” a stream-of-consciousness collision of the personal and political, where QAnon and doomscrolling and Matty’s boner can exist contemporaneously. It ends with what could be the thesis for their discography: “I’m sorry if you’re living and you’re seventeen.” As it swells into an orchestra, familiar ’75 soundscapes twirl with Adam Hann’s Queen-style guitar tones. It’s a gorgeous opener.
From there, Being Funny pivots. They eschew their usual 21st century themes in favor of something less contemporary but more relevant than ever. If “The 1975” is a pessimistic state-of-the-union, then the rest of the album is about the greatest source of comfort available. It’s an album about falling in love, family, and the joy of human connection. In a way, it feels in line with 2022’s best film, Everything Everywhere All At Once. When burdened by inhumanity and senselessness, the best way to cope is to cling to fragments of empathy, genuineness, and love. Corny? Sure. Perfect 1975 album material? Absolutely.
In the past, The 1975’s love and breakup songs had a sense of dread at their fringes. A Brief Inquiry’s “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is darkened by an album the struggle for self-actualization and addiction. “Somebody Else” is haunted by the neon overload of I like it when you sleep. But here, Matty’s love is bright and uncomplicated. “Happiness” sets the tone: the track’s pulse and Nile Rogers-style guitar are buoyant. “I’m In Love With You” is, in typical 1975 fashion, cliché and endearing. Its repetitive chorus is joyfully one-dimensional. When has this band ever been so joyfully simple before?
Healy’s frankness, earnestness, and humor is on full display, but without paranoia or subversion. “You’ve gotta talk about the people, baby,” he mocks on “Part of the Band.” Instead, he talks about himself (“Am I ironically woke? The butt of my joke”). Even in these moments of self-doubt, he’s oddly relaxed, a narrator who has finally accepted his own contradictions. On another album, the final line “The only time I feel I might get better is when we are together” might be a desperate plea. Here, it’s hopeful. The album is bursting with empathy and appreciation for loved ones. “Be vocally and unapologetically in love!” it yells from a sinking ship. “Wintering” gives a nonjudgmental and patient look at family members around the Christmas dinner table. “All I Need to Hear” summarizes: “Just tell me you love me/Cause that’s all I need to hear.”
The 1975’s albums are relics of their respective eras, oftentimes to their benefit. But Being Funny aims for timelessness. Their blend of baroque and ’80s power pop sound analog and warm. Unsurprisingly, Antonoff brings out their Bruce Springsteen influence: saxophones and soaring choruses abound. For the first time, the notorious genre-hoppers play to their strengths and display their skills as pop auteurs. “Oh Caroline” and “Looking For Somebody (To Love)” (the album’s thematic exception) channel Sussidio-era Phil Collins. They get away with pop cliches—the call-and-response bridge of “I’m In Love With You” or “All I Need To Hear’s” waltz-y crooning—because they’re so damn good at invigorating them.
It’s not a perfect record. “Human Too” aims to be a sincerity anthem, but its chorus’s profoundness is shallow. They’ve written better songs about this in the past. While thematically cohesive, Being Funny lacks Notes’s soaring highs, moments of anxious, Internet-fueled genius. I miss George Daniel’s production touches: the cold synthesizers and ambience that feels like you’re inside a computer. They sound more comfortable than ever, at the loss of the audaciousness that made A Brief Inquiry such a special record (and pissed off all those critics).
The 1975 have come full circle. Another black-and-white era. A continuation of Album One’s beloved “Robbers” in “About You.” “Do you think I have forgotten?” Matty asks on the gothic, cavernous song. It’s hard not to read into his self-referential nature. The band looks back at that first era: to fans, to younger versions of themselves, to loved ones. They were clear at the beginning of this uncontroversial, streamlined, and focused cycle: “Your new album. Your new era. Your old friends.” They didn’t forget.
Being Funny In A Foreign Language is out now.