The 1975: I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

Colored with neon synthesizers and a widescreen John Hughes-esque aesthetic, The 1975's second album is a studied indulgence in '80s melodrama.
The 1975
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

Each song on the 1975’s sophomore album is a surrender to some rapturous yet mind-warping intoxication. Narcotic, erotic, pill-shaped, heart-shaped, ingested through the eyes or taken in by the tongue, these intoxications vary slightly by type but incite a uniform effect: addiction, a feeling of being totally and cripplingly dependent on drugs, flesh, or some vein-flooding admixture of the two. Simply put, it’s stimulation these Manchester indie-rockers are after; once one high wears off, they’re already chasing the next one down, their slick, avant-prep outfits and exaggerated affections in tow. I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, the band’s follow up to their fizzy, emo-pop debut, overflows with this exact type of voracious self-indulgence. For singer Matt Healy, there aren’t enough bodies to traverse, not enough nights to botch or drugs to go around.

Yet this self-indulgence isn’t a lyrical phenomenon alone. It saturates the band’s new sonic palette, a pastel, ’80s-indebted amalgam of unabashed synth-pop maximalism and thermodynamic pop-R&B. Every song is a highly compacted vista of musical ideas, effusive desires, and epic, you’re-my-everything romantic tragedies, but, impressively, nothing feels overstuffed or out of place.

“The Sound”, for instance, seems like it is one heartbeat away from an amphetamine overdose, a total shutdown of vital organs brought on by sheer melodic euphoria. Within 30 seconds, the track has already reached its apogee and, from there, it’s just one, continuous eruption of pure-pop kinetic energy until the final chorus concludes. Yet, to the 1975’s credit, this energy never seems out of control; it’s curated, fine-tuned to express an overwhelming infatuation without becoming overwhelmed by this infatuation itself.

In certain phrases, such as the innuendo-laced question “Oh, baby, won’t you come again?”, Healy sings with this infatuation swelling out of his larynx. Marshaled along by white-hot synth stabs, jittery funk guitar, and declarative, fist-to-ivory chord pulses, he sings like a closet obsessive who’s stepping out into the light for the first time. “Well I know when you’re around / ‘Cause I know the sound / I know the sound / Of your heart,” he repeats, almost shouting, competing in volume with the heartbeat to which he’s become so attuned.

But upon closer scrutiny, this isn’t just some throwaway adolescent obsession, but a full-fledged addiction: Healy has spent so many hours memorizing the cadence and detail of his lover’s heartbeat, waiting for its throbs and pounds, tracing its contractions and expansions, that now he can’t live without it. He knows this “sound” so well that he hears it even when she’s nowhere to be seen. It follows him around like a ubiquitous specter-memory, a heartbeat-without-body that won’t leave him alone but that he needs to survive. Think Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, but the tale here is a saga of 20-something erotic mania rather than Gothic horror.

“Somebody Else”, arguably the album’s best cut, also strands Healy with an obsession teetering toward a full-on psychosexual breakdown. Compared with the sugar-high effervescence of “The Sound”, it’s a pious slow jam, filled with whirling synthesizer washes, disco-lite bass, and clattering 808 percussion. If the anthemic, multiplex synth-pop of Tears for Fears or OMD was filtered through the pretty-boy R&B of latter-day Justin Bieber, then “Somebody Else” would be the byproduct. Lyrically, the track is about overcoming jealousy, but Healy’s constant assertion of indifference — “I don’t want your body, I don’t want your body” — suggests that he’s repressing his desires rather than noting their absence. Pop psychology could lend Healy a hand here. As so many self-help manuals note, the harder you try to deny a thought, a desire, the more intense and omnipresent it will become.

But what desire is he trying to suffocate? Who’s body is he trying to efface from his memory? This could be the flirt from the 1975’s earlier hit “Sex”, the paramour-prude who ignites Healy’s blood only to leave him out cold. Now she’s dumped her “boyfriend anyway” for another lover, but it’s not Healy, the oversexed lothario-rocker who always thought she’d turn to him after her previous relationship fizzled out. So each time he repeats “I don’t want your body” in “Somebody Else”, he’s not just thinking about her body as an abstraction, but a specific flesh-on-flesh interaction first detailed one album ago: “Now we’re on the bed in my room / And I’m about to fill his shoes,” Healy wails, the volcanic guitar behind him channeling the impulsive glide maneuver sending them from doorway to mattress top, the knocked-off-your-feet deluge of electricity and untempered lust that only happens the first time you get someone alone. This is the body Healy can’t stop thinking about in “Somebody Else”. It appears constantly — a motif, an addiction. Instead of repeating “I don’t want your body,” he might as well just be saying: “Now we’re on the bed in my room / Now we’re on the bed in my room / Now we’re on the bed in my room.”

I Like It When You Sleep is 17 tracks long. By any standard, it’s an expansive collection, riddled with caution-to-the-wind sonic experiments and bits of alchemical production flourishes. Surprisingly, though, there aren’t any significant misfires here. “Love Me” is a post-Random Access Memories update of Duran Duran’s chrome-funk work with Nile Rodgers. “Paris”, meanwhile, leaves no ambiguity about its intentions; it wants to soundtrack the climatic moment of a John Hughes-aping teen melodrama, when would-be lovers lock eyes and their first kiss is all but a foregone conclusion. However, as a whole, it would be a miscalculation to simply characterize the LP as a retro-’80s pastiche. It’s much more than that: an evolution in sound and sophistication for the 1975, evidence that their pop instincts are not only couched in history, but fixated on the future as well.

RATING 8 / 10
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