Is The 1975 A Rock Band?

Courtesy of The 1975

In May, The 1975 released “Give Yourself A Try,” the first single from the band’s forthcoming third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, which finally comes out Friday. Within the space of 197 seconds, the sometimes cocky, sometimes earnest Manchester quartet manages to show off everything it does well. “Give Yourself A Try” is extremely polished and unrepentantly trashy, a firecracker spitting buzzsaw guitars and jittery 808s, all in service of a point of view that’s specific and yet also scans as a generational statement. Like all great 1975 songs, it’s a big tune that feels intimate, a fun trifle that’s somehow freighted with meaning.

A few months later, the 1975 doubled down on all of those very 1975 signifiers for the album’s next single, “Love It If We Made It,” a rambling electro-pop confection that references Donald Trump, police shootings, Lil Peep, rampant consumerism, lead singer Matty Healy’s heroin addiction, Jesus Christ, Kanye West, and several other memes, like a nervous breakdown unfolding on Instagram. It’s probably the band’s best track to date, and arguably the song of 2018.

From the beginning of the 1975’s career — which launched in 2012 with the early British chart success of grabby hits like “The City,” “Sex” and “Chocolate,” that set the stage for the band’s self-titled full-length debut the following year — they have been a wonderful singles act. They’ve also been a somewhat less wonderful albums band. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships surrounds those indelible early teasers — which also include “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime,” “Sincerity Is Scary,” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” — with scores of stylistic diversions that, for better or worse, point to where the band’s true soul resides.

At their most palatable, The 1975 specialize in the sort of ’80s revival anthems that will be remembered as the default sound of hip 2010s indie pop music. (The 1975 is part of the 1989 generation.) But on their albums, they deliberately reach beyond their grasp — A Brief Inquiry includes homages to Soundcloud rap, lounge-y jazz, wispy singer-songwriter confessionals, UK garage, Eno-esque ambient soundscapes, and (most thrillingly) Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova.” Like 2016’s similarly diverse I like when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, A Brief Inquiry is easy to admire as a gesture of bold artistic grandiosity and sometimes difficult to slog through as an album. The peaks are high and the valleys are lumpy and willfully trying. (The jazzy cut, “Mine,” sounds like bad Norah Jones.) But through it all, A Brief Inquiry confirmed for me a simple truth.

This is a rock band.

“Is The 1975 a rock band?” has been a recurring narrative in the conversation about this band from practically the beginning, and it remains very much a Rorschach test for how different constituencies view them. A 2016 Rolling Stone profile referred to them as “one of rock’s biggest new bands,” while a recent episode of the New York Times‘ music podcast Popcast suggested that The 1975 is too musically diverse to be credibly classified as rock.

As for the band members themselves, they’ve sent mixed messages on this issue. They certainly look like a rock band. If Jim Morrison crawled out of his grave tomorrow and immediately sought out new music, he would be heartened to see Healy, the rare modern frontman who feels secure enough to wear leather pants while also going shirtless. A 2016 Spin profile played up the 1975’s roots as an erstwhile emo band that ultimately won over fans by touring rigorously.