The 1975's 'A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships': Often Infuriating, Mostly Brilliant
In my experience, to be a fan of The 1975 is to be constantly frustrated. It’s to reconcile the fact that all four members are clearly extraordinarily talented with the fact that frontman Matty Healy is kind of a jerk. It’s to accept that, for every perfect song like ‘Settle Down’, ‘Fallingforyou’, ‘If I Believe You’ or ‘Undo’, there will be one dud like the cloying ‘This Must Be My Dream’ or the embarrassing ‘Give Yourself a Try’, the first single for this latest outing. And here we are again, now three albums and a string of (very underrated) EPs in, and their excessive efforts to be everything at once has once again resulted in the definition of a mixed-bag. Their “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality has resulted in another album that is both maddening and thrilling, but thankfully it’s mostly the latter this time.
Once again, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships starts with a repurposed version of their self-titled track, a tactic the group use to offer a microcosm of where they are at musically at this point of time. And ‘The 1975’ does a great job of that. Lo-fi piano intro gives way to mangled electronics and heavily-edited vocals for the most interesting intro they have created yet, with the mixture of raw and synthetic elements offering a glimpse of what is to follow. Unfortunately, the group follow this up with two duds; the aforementioned ‘Give Yourself a Try’ is commendable for its message but is very grating as a track, while ‘Tootimetootimetootime’ (yes, I know) is an oddly uneventful song for a single. Luckily, the quality dramatically improves from there on in.
When the band do deliver, they absolutely smash it. Following these songs, ‘How to Draw/Petrichor’ starts off with a Sigur Rós-esque ambient passage, before some more Bon Iver-type vocal edits kick in and the track turns into something resembling Four Tet. It’s all much more natural than that sounds, and is just one great example of their magpie-approach working in their favour. ‘Love it if We Made It’ follows, which does try very hard to be the new ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ but also hits the mark brilliantly. I did find it annoying and over-earnest at first, but it grew on me, and is now one of my favourite songs of the year. Who knew a Donald Trump tweet would work so well as a lyric? The band are on a roll, but sadly follow it up with the album’s most forgettable song, with the sparse accompaniment on ‘Be My Mistake’ leaving Healy’s most cliché lyrics all-too-exposed.
Thankfully, the highlights continue after this brief lull. ‘Inside Your Mind’ is a fascinating track; its central image should be unnerving, but it comes across as beautiful and romantic. ‘It’s Not Loving (if It’s Not with You)’ is the most catchy, winning song about coming off drugs you’ll probably ever hear. ‘Sincerity is Scary’ is an insightful and uplifting song about the dangers of not confronting your emotions. ‘The Man Who Married a Robot’ re-contextualises an idea from Radiohead’s infamous ‘Fitter Happier’ to make for an entertaining interlude, while ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ is a stirring outro to finish the record on a glorious high.
Almost everything about A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships sees the band improving. The song-writing is the strongest, the production is very easily to get lost in, and the experiments feel more natural than they ever have. Yes, sometimes The 1975’s ambition doesn’t match with the result. Overall, however, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is their most consistently enjoyable record so far, and may prove a few nay-sayers wrong. If you were ever in doubt about this group, this might be the one to give a try.