On ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships,’ The 1975 Establish Themselves As The Emblematic Millennial Rock Band

11.29.18 3 weeks ago

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Has there been a rock band in recent memory as divisive as The 1975? It’s not a rhetorical question. The last time a group of guys using guitars to do something other than simply shred drew equal hullabaloo and consternation was a full decade ago, when Vampire Weekend broke big from the halls of Columbia with their indelible self-titled debut album. There was something about Vampire Weekend that really got under peoples’ skin — the supposed prep-school affectations, the blend of arch humor and observational sensitivity, the sneakily ahead-of-its-time decision to grab any sound available that wasn’t three chords and the truth. And that outrage was simultaneously a little absurd and a little understandable, the latter feeling owing itself to the fact that there simply wasn’t that much to get mad about in the humdrum empire-era days of indie culture circa the late 2000s.

It goes without saying (especially ten years later) that Vampire Weekend’s divisiveness didn’t hurt their appeal one bit; they’re still one of the most popular indie bands in North America despite not having been active in nearly a half-decade, and when their long-awaited fourth album does arrive next year, the resounding commercial reaction will be as if they never left. The 1975 have found themselves in a similar place over the course of their career, too; since frontman Matty Healy and co. released their self-titled debut LP in 2013, they’ve amassed a massive global following that has grown with every year since, with younger audiences going absolutely nuts for their hybridic sound while other listeners — some critics, some normal people — were largely found scratching their heads.

During the NYC tour stop at the Barclays Center arena behind 2016’s mostly brilliant I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, the applause in between songs was loud enough to permanently damage hearing; that record also found a new group of critics getting on board with the band’s spiky and outrageous genre-blend — but plenty of skeptics remained unconvinced. Still, it seemed like the tide was primed to turn wholly to The 1975’s side this year, as the band launched a remarkable run of singles that led up to their fourth album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, which sees release this week.

After the clever, diaristic, vacuum-compressed pop-punk of “Give Yourself A Try,” there was “Love It If We Made It,” a towering generational anthem that took the best parts of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and INXS’ “Mediate” and doused them in kerosene, leaving listeners with a gorgeous and passionate fire to set their own anxieties ablaze in. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” represented something of a global-pop breakthrough for the band, a delicious Afro-pop-inspired synth loop accompanying Healy’s musings on faithfulness in the age of Facetime; “Sincerity Is Scary” applied a jazzy, lighter touch to the holistic gospel-pop of I Like It When You Sleep‘s “If I Believe You,” while “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” bathed The 1975 in the soft-rock lighting that so often fits them like a knit cap, an ode to longing that doubled as a direct addressing of Healy’s struggles with heroin addiction (which he successfully completed a rehab stint for last year). The appeal of these singles were, on their face, obvious to anyone with a pair of ears, reaching people in the affirmative who felt left out in the cold by the band’s previous material. But does the other two-thirds of the album deliver similarly?

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