Monday, May 25, 2020

Review: Notes on a Conditional Form • The 1975

As the ringleader of The 1975, Matty Healy knows his way around a song: The band has melded pop and rock into songs with unbelievable emotional intelligence on three oversized albums, each with an increasing probability of being deemed a modern classic. Healy is well aware of his band’s advanced capabilities – and unfortunately, much like the class valedictorian who spent his life coddled with affection, he is probably too smug for his own good. Sometimes talking just to hear his own voice, it seems, he has managed to get mouthy often enough to merit "A look back at the wankiest stuff Matty Healy has ever said" list to be published. And it would be much easier to become legitimately angry with him if The 1975 consistently produced albums like Notes on a Conditional Form.

Though its existence was inferred before its predecessor, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, was even released in 2018, Notes on a Conditional Form had its release date kicked around for well over a year, with new songs dropped like a breadcrumb trail to an unknown destination. Within the framework of the overdue 80-minute (!!!) vision, it becomes evident that The 1975 is just as disconnected as the record’s many previews suggested. Climate change activist Greta Thunberg recites a chilling five-minute monologue as the record's prelude, priming audiences for the hard rock racket of "People," a wake-up call to give a damn about themselves and the world around them. What follows the false bellwethers, however, is much less important: Over an hour of self-indulgence that is rarely odious but often unremarkable.

Whereas previous records from The 1975 resonated mania, frustration, and devastation with uncanny precision, Notes on a Conditional Form is frustratingly apathetic and linear. Ambient dance beats – which were implemented with more purpose on A Brief Inquiry but are nearly abused here – clutter up half the record, bleeding into the indiscernible mid-tempo ho-hums about tucking up an erection into a waistband and strained relationships. Three-quarters through the chore, we finally reach the oasis: “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” a pornographic pop-rock fever dream. Magnified in reverb, Healy shouts about sex appeal over the band’s brightest groove and overshadows the other tracks’ indifference. It embodies everything this record so sorely lacks: Convincing sincerity and a palpable pulse. 

Notes on a Conditional Form is available now under Dirty Hit and Interscope Records.

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