Album Review: The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

[Dirty Hit; 2020]

Reinvention is nothing new for The 1975; they wear identities like hashtags, and it’s this understanding of modern culture that has allowed them to invade disparate playlists throughout the world. In the past this cocksure right to deliver whatever they please has worked well, but as their ‘Music For Cars’ era comes to a close, it seems a little more reigning in and a little less rehashing the past would have served them better.

Matty Healy is the quintessential frontman, he’s all ego and nothing is off limits. He’s at once the relatable everyman, the boy next door and yet can arrogantly write about his celebrity without grating; he and his lyrics give us the unfiltered and over-documented lifestyle we crave today. Here he tackles his drug addiction, touring, atheism, love, politics, even the fallibility of his own writing. It’s no wonder then that Notes On A Conditional Form clocks in at a beastly 22 tracks and was delayed and then delayed and then delayed a bit more.

Name a style, any style. UK Garage. Post-punk. Dub-step. Pop. Folk. Purely instrumental or spoken word? They’re all here. A Phoebe Bridgers fan? That’s great, she’s here too. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of them, in fact taken independently the majority of these tracks are excellent, each a reminder of The 1975’s ability to produce a hit. The cutesy “Me & You Together Song” is like a cheesy rom-com as Healy ponders, “We went to Winter Wonderland / and it was shit but we were happy.” Equally as thrilling is “If you’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”, which casts you in the leading role of a John Hughes movie montage, and is perhaps the most The 1975 song on the record, somehow making pop perfection out of online sex and lyrics like, “I’m trying not to stare down there / while she talks about her tough time.” It’s this same self-mythologising nature that he debunks with “I never fucked in a car / I was lying” on “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied”. 

If Notes On A Conditional Form is cohesive at all then it’s thanks to George Daniel, the band’s multi-instrumentalist and producer, who proves himself a juggernaut here. The six-minute instrumental “Having No Head” serves as his self-introduction as it traverses through stoic piano, space-age ambience and house. The diversity is so vast and so well done that it’s almost commendable. Mainly though, it’s just a bit much for one sitting, and instead feels more like you’re listening to The 1975 radio on Spotify. 

Nobody likes just one thing anymore and the concept of genre has all but disappeared. The 1975 understand that like no other mainstream band or artist around today and they’ve capitalised on it. They’re also unafraid of trying new things, changing their mind and asking for help, which is why there’s an entire Cutty Ranks track (“Shiny Collarbone”) alongside a Greta Thunberg speech (“The 1975”) alongside a lullaby-like ode to their own band and friendship (“Guys”). Heck they even sample their own songs throughout the course of this colossus. 

Arrogant? Absolutely. 

Boring? A bit.

Great? No doubt about it.