Sunday, October 16, 2022

Review: Being Funny in a Foreign Language • The 1975


The 1975 never sounded as lost as they did on their last studio record, Notes on a Conditional Form. Meandering through 80 minutes of vaguely activist and faux-affecting litany, the band could barely form a coherent composition under the weight of expectations to craft another oversized statement piece. But this year, there was a reset: In crafting the antithesis to The 1975’s tortuous methodology to music production, the band may have created one of their essential records. At a comparatively lean 11 tracks, Being Funny in a Foreign Language feels like a quality playlist – a purposeful curation of The 1975 at their very best without shaking the idea that the band’s music is a messy, blunt collection of whims.

Between the swings from overinflated ‘80 pop-rock stadium-fillers – some sounding parallel to album co-producer Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers projects – to folk guitar plunkers, one fact remains consistent: Matty Healy is a showman. Hooks are sticky – “I’m in love with you, I, I, I, I, I, I’m in love with you,” he stutters in the singalong that couldn’t get any easier – but are padded in detached specificities. Painted in muted greys, the plucky, string-led lead single “Part of the Band” is composed almost entirely in pretty narrative fragments without feeling pointless. Likewise, he opens the love song “When We Are Together” with, “Our first kiss was Christmas in the Walmart toy department.” It, like many tracks here, successfully bottles little joys and real, tangible, imperfect love – and a mental image of Matty Healy in the aisle of a bottom shelf American retailer, which just feels wrong.

The 1975 have existed as a band for over a decade – plenty long enough to have forged an identity and laid out a rubric for what defines a superior song in their own space. (In fact, this record was to be titled At Their Very Best until Healy got cold feet over the name.) It could be suspected that the dancey “Happiness” and the Tango in the Night homage “Oh Caroline” could score high on that rubric, if it so exists. What the band has learned to avoid, however, is the caricaturization of their own art form to the point that it slips into a tired piece of self-depreciation. Yes, the album makes someone cock his head in disbelief at times. Yes, it might as well grind its own transmission beyond disrepair with hard tonal shifts. But it’s still fully The 1975, inheriting all of the band’s signature stunts and maximizing their impact through a footprint reduction and a display of creative restraint. 

Being Funny in a Foreign Language is available now under Dirty Hit Records.

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