May 22, 2020 The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form (Album Review)
Manchester’s The 1975 formed in 2002 with hopes of creating a buzz. On their fourth album, Notes on a Conditional Form, arriving May 22, 2020 via Dirty Hit/Polyphor Records, they do just that, while displaying a sense of alertness and openness of many subjects, from drugs, to love, to selfishness and mindfulness of the future.
These Alternative-Synth Pop lads stormed onto the scene with their self-titled album in 2013, followed by I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It in 2016, and their full-fledged opus, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, in 2019. And for The 1975—Matt Healey (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, keyboards, synthesizers), Adam Hann (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards, synthesizers), Ross MacDonald (bass, backing vocals, keyboards, samplers, synthesizers), and George Daniel (drums, percussion, backing vocals, keyboards, synthesizers)—their evolution has been an honest and open one.
With each new album, The 1975 maintains a commonality: the self-titled opener is always a Spoken Word track focused on Earth today; speaking of how we, as the new generation, can change our future. This time around, the orator of these words is none other than the young and powerful Greta Thunberg, Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year of 2019.” Thunberg’s words take more precedence on this record than any hit single, and that’s how The 1975 like it, as the band hope to be the messengers that help us be a part of the change our world needs so badly.
Proper first track, “People,” seems to start as a battle cry for that change, and the generation whose shoulders it weighs on. As it takes rabble rousers on a ride through a Punk club straight out of the ‘90s, it harkens backward to times of a complete sense of abandon while retaining its sense of hopelessness at the same time. Next, “The End (Music For Cars)” opens with a majestic, atmospheric orchestra; almost as if the movie is just about to start and the first two tracks were simply the coming attractions.
What follows will prove to be an epic and poignant journey, with “Frail State of Mind,” and “Tonight I Wish I Was Your Boy” calling to mind a mellow synth, while still easily maintaining a groove to bop heads to. Each track’s instrumentation plays imaginatively with a see-sawing sense of frailness and chaos. Meanwhile, “Streaming” can be described as an electronic water stream; crescendoing with figurative glimmers of sunlight twinkling on its bends and curves. It is very serene while maintaining the ebb and flow that The 1975 are known for on previous albums.
Similarly, “Having No Head” plays along the same track flow. But “The Birthday Party” trails with echoing, trickling piano with ironic lyrics about Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall. Next, “Yeah I Know,” reminiscent of The Postal Service-esque synth tracks, maintains the heavy yet calm Pop that we come to love about The 1975, while “Then Because She Goes” creates a heavier approach with stronger guitars while keeping to their moody vibes.
One of the album’s already released singles, “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” is an Americana track exploring sexuality, with backing vocals by Phoebe Bridges, which continues the calm, ironic balladry. “Roadkill” continues this Americana route, but with a deep Country melange and sounds like it could be a contender for another single. This is also the case for the gruny Pop tracks “Me You Together Song” and “If You’re Too Shy, Let Me Know,” the latter featuring FKA Twigs.
Next up, “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” and “Shiny Collarbone” are reminiscent of a jazzy, synth-led club track, taking the listener to a tranquil place. Then, with backing vocals from the London Community Gospel Choir, “Nothing Revealed, Everything Denied” takes us to church with soulful neo-synth while explaining the vagueness and vanity of fame.
“Playing on My Mind” reflects back to Brief Inquiry’s “Be My Mistake,” with subtle tempo changes and positive overtones. Meanwhile, Synthpop song “What Should I Say” takes an instrumental-esque note from Tycho, allowing the beat to lead listeners on a delicate journey into “Bagsy Not In Net,” which ultimately taking the reins with a trancier, Sophistipop beat.
As the album comes to a close, “Don’t Worry” takes on a positive message with an electronic air ballad that is classic The 1975, complete with lyrics such as “The sun will shine through,” a message we all could use right now. But for their grand finale, they give listeners that final upbeat push with heartwarming track “Guys,” where it is as if Healey is handing his fans a soft, billowy blanket.
In the end, Notes on a Conditional Form offers listeners a vast array of stylistic options, showcasing the band’s transformative nature. Along with wearing their consciousness on their sleeves, The 1975 offer a journey with moments of poignancy and clarity, riotous sexuality, and even doff their hats to Americana. Powerfully poppy but so much more, Cryptic Rock gives Notes on A Conditional Form 4.5 out of 5 stars.