[15 October 2013]
After releasing four EPs over the past year, Manchester-based quartet the 1975 have released one of the most talked about debuts of the year. The 16 tracks deal with youthful anxieties over love, sex, and growing up through a pastiche of styles and sounds. It’s true that The 1975 pulls from music in the past, but 1975 is rarely present. 2004’s emo choruses, 1986’s stadium reverb, the late ‘70s slinky funk guitar rhythms are all here in full force, but 1975’s progressive rock bombast or its smoke singer-songwriter folk is noticeably absent. Semantics aside, the band’s self-titled debut takes its disparate sonic elements and synthesizes them into one of the year’s most compelling, if flawed, albums.
Compositionally, these songs are most purely pop-punk and emo. The melodies and lyrics often feel lifted right from Taking Back Sunday’s Where You Want to Be. Even Matt Healy’s whining tenor sounds like a cross between Pat Stump’s squeal and Johnny Rotten’s unintelligible accent. The songwriting, however, is decorated with intricate arrangements that recall these other styles. Like, “Robbers”, which is essentially Dashboard Confessional reworked to the arrangement of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. Or “Settle Down”, a song that could pass for a Fall Out Boy outtake if it weren’t for grooving clean guitar disco riffs. Other songs are imbued with electronic and trip-hop production techniques like synth heavy “M.O.N.E.Y” and the ambient “Menswear”, while “Heart Out” features a Richie Cannata-eqsue Sax solo. “Chocolate” even ends with rhythmic marimbas reminiscent of Steve Reich (which might come the closest to 1975).
But all of these songs, with their stylistic allusions, focus their attention on the same topics. The 1975 paints a melodramatic portrait of modern over-emotional youth. Like the emo/screamo albums this pulls so much of its songwriting influence from, the songs here reflect the feelings of vulnerability and fragility that come with your adjusting place in life as you grow up and navigate the world. The singer finds himself depressed, lovelorn, sexually frustrated, angsty, and usually some or all of these at the same time. After years of indie and pop music that was filled with apathy, or, at best, ambivalence, The 1975 shows that times have swung back the other direction. Healy and company sing not to adolescents who don’t care, but to adolescents who care too much. To them, everything matters. Even if they know better, it feels like every small bump in their road is a giant mountain to climb.
The various styles used, in fact, strength the themes of the lyrics. By using eclectic and varied sources of inspiration for the arrangements, the songs feel unsure of themselves and anxious. There is often a disconnect between the elements of the songwriting and the finished production, which is inline with the feeling of being awkward in your own skin that the narrator sings about. Further, the stylistic elements are pulled from genres not typically associated with this kind of sentimentality. The funk grooves and stadium rock drums normally connote strength and sexual confidence. So their use here, to support songs about anxiety, emotion, and uncertainty, is particularly striking. It makes the feeling of not fitting in one’s own skin even more apparent and powerful. The juxtaposition of sonic cues normally used to signify power with the apparent helplessness and confusion of the narrator makes The 1975 a unique listening experience.
At 16 tracks, however, it does begin to feel weighed down by filler. Particularly, the two interlude tracks, “An Encounter” and “12”, as well as the intro title-track, are nice, but ultimately unnecessary. Removing them would make the album more succinct and cohesive. The Deluxe Edition comes with a second disc that contains the band’s four EPs as well as six remix tracks. The material on the EPs is noticeably inferior to that of the main CD, but it is interesting to hear earlier versions of some of the songs. The remixes, handled by six different producers, are also largely forgettable and uninteresting, making the second disc worthwhile for die-hard fans only.
The 1975 is far from a perfect album. But in many ways, its flaws are part of its charm. The musical shortcomings and stylistic incongruity actually strengthen the character and theme of the album. As a debut, the album is a very strong statement, which will ultimately be a good thing for the band, whatever direction they go from here.