The 1975’s lead singer, Matty Healy’s life is perfectly analogous to what he has produced with his newest album: all over the place. Healy has battled a heroin addiction for years, suffers from depression and anxiety, and has gone so far as to even call himself “Not that mentally stable.” This new album, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”, is the band’s third LP, and it really is all over the place, bouncing around from the band’s prototypical bubblegum pop to jazz, glitchy electronica and balladry. There is even a song narrated entirely by Siri. Although Healy definitely still struggles to put his life together, the album finds a way to masterfully incorporate all these elements into a insightful and cohesive hour of music that powerfully tackles modernity, technology, relationships and drug addiction.
This is not to say the album is perfect. Some songs constantly hug the borderline between good and bad. “Give Yourself a Try” and “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” are aggressively catchy, but nearly veer towards grating. “Be My Mistake” is raw and heartbreaking but almost corny and “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” is genuine and introspective but almost melodramatic. Any time it seems like the album might jump off the cliff and be consumed by its sheer excess, it finds a way back. In the end, all of these songs work, something that can be attributed to Healy’s growth as a lyricist and musician since their previous record, “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It.”
The album has numerous standout tracks worth mentioning. First is its towering centerpiece, “Love It If We Made it”, which might just be the best song on the album. The song points out the absurdity and destructiveness of the moment we live in, specifically referencing the refugee crisis, climate change and even directly quoting a comment of President Trump’s about Kanye West, “Thank You Kanye, very cool.” The song quite literally questions whether we as society will be able to make it out of this societal moment, which is a surprisingly dark question to be asking for a bubblegum pop song. However, the bizarre contrast between the song’s sound and lyrics only helps strengthen Healy’s points about the absurdity of 2018.
“Sincerity Is Scary” is another great cut in the middle of the album. Healy’s lyricism is as good as it has been on the album, and this song is a great example. Healy pens a brilliant song that perfectly sums up what many in our generation do: we use irony and humor to deflect from discussing deep, personal and uncomfortable subjects. The song criticizes a culture that is wrapped up in social media, with some attaching their self-esteem inextricably to how they are perceived on these platforms. The band uses horns, smooth backing instrumentals and a powerful choral section during the chorus to give the song a grand feeling, while still being irresistibly catchy.
Healy drenches his voice in autotune surprisingly compellingly for “How to Draw/Petrichor”, a mostly instrumental double track, and “I Like American & America Likes Me”, an explicitly political track criticizing gun violence, particularly in schools, throughout the United States. These two songs, along with “The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme”, all deviate from the typical sound of the band. This song was the one narrated by Siri, and the story is rather fascinating: a man lives alone, with the internet, a sentient being in the story, as his best and only friend. Eventually he dies lonely, signifying the emptiness of society’s constant engagement with the internet.
There are a few romantic ballads on the album, like the aforementioned “Be My Mistake”, which is rather stale lyrically and simplistic sonically. The best one, “Inside Your Mind”, finds Healy wishing he could crack open his girlfriend’s head to figure out her innermost thoughts and feelings she would not express openly. The grotesque imagery adds to the darkness and complexity of the song, putting it a step above the others tackling similar issues on the album.
The last song worth independent praise is “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You).” This song is about as dark as it gets: a love letter to heroin. Healy describes the drug disturbingly fondly, stating as the title implies “It’s not living if it’s not with you” and that he needs it to “Distract [his] brain from the terrible news.” The song provides an important perspective to the discussion of drug abuse in music. We constantly hear about the stories of the undoubtedly true harms of drug use with some stories of addicts successfully recovering weaved throughout. Healy admits he has struggled to get clean, although he now has been for almost a year, since he has a complex love-hate relationship with the drug.
All in all, this album is worth checking out. The misses are few and far between, and at its best, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” puts out some of the best lyrics of the year on top of, for the most part, their usual pop rock sound that instantly makes any song an earworm.