One of the great joys of experiencing art in all its forms is being able to witness, in almost real time, the evolution of an artist. We can see them experiment, push boundaries, and hopefully, discover something about themselves, and by connection, us, in the process of creation. When art succeeds in this task, it is glorious to experience, even secondhand. And then there is the flip side. When an artist falls flat on their face, fails to grow, and seems to refuse to push against the boundaries and constraints of playing it safe.
The 1975 recently released their third studio album A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, its first without respected producer Mike Crossey. The 1975, quite frankly, were expected to continue evolving. After all, their debut self-title album was solid and the follow up, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It showed no signs of a sophomore slump and even improved upon the first album. Although not perfect by any means, the tracks that never quite worked tended to be experimental and pushing those boundaries.
Sadly, this album is a gigantic step in the wrong direction. It is more simplistic musically and ultimately forgettable, at best. Although it is common practice to listen to albums more than once for reviews, in this case it was an absolute necessity for the worst reasons. Besides the obvious singles fodder, it will be a challenge to remember a single thing about this album mere minutes after the final track graciously fades to silence.
Now, I struggle to think of any album that is a complete waste. The 1975 are obviously talented, and there are a few moments worth tuning into. The album itself begins with a self-titled track (just like the previous albums), and there is some hope there with a mildly pleasant piano mixed with distorted vocals, which is different from previous albums and feels experimental. As a matter of fact, the album does start strong, with that track followed by “Give Yourself A Try” and “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME.” Both of these tracks are catchy at first, but will likely vanish from your brain soon after.
Aside from “Love It If We Made It,” the rest of the tracks range from completely forgettable to truly horrendous. “Love It If We Made It” takes an interesting introspective look at the difficulty of being an artist in the face of worldwide tragedy. “Selling melanin and then suffocate the black men/Start with misdemeanors and we’ll make a business out of them.” The track discusses the insanity of the world events of 2018 and the impotent rage many of us feel. It is definitely a standout, and deserves to be heard as part of a better album.
This album also has lead singer Matthew Healy attempting to stand on his own as a vocalist on a few tracks. These, including “Mine” and “I Couldn’t Be More In Love”, are both near complete failures. “Mine” is a lounge style track that is quite simply a terrible fit for Healy’s voice. “I Couldn’t Be More In Love,” on the other hand, stands out in the worst way. It reeks of a late 80’s/early 90’s soft rock ballad. This is again, not in Healy’s wheelhouse and it feels less like experimentation and more like laziness. One of The 1975’s strengths is their combination of pop and electronic stylistic choices. This combination is mostly absent from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, and as such, the album both fades away quickly and drags on to a seemingly interminable length. To be completely fair, if you disregard the lyrical faults of the album, there is some interesting musical work, particularly on “Sincerity Is Scary” and “I Like America & America Likes Me.” But none of this is even close to enough for you to spend the time with this disappointment of an album. This is the kind of work that makes one glad that streaming is an option, so you don’t sink hard earned dollars into a tedious affair.
The 1975 have undoubtedly produced a let down of an album here, but maybe not all hope is lost. They have another album to be released in 2019, Notes On A Conditional Form. They do view these albums as part of a series, but honestly it would not take much for it to improve on this lackluster effort.