‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ by The 1975 [Album Review]

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So we were supposed to have a new album from The 1975 by now but it’s been pushed so many times that I’m more ready for it to come out of nowhere than for it to come out on the day they say it will.

So as we wait–for many albums, not just from this band–I thought I would take a look at some previous albums that changed the way I think about music. A tall order, I know, but there are a lot of albums I love that have been out for a few years (*cough* 10 years *cough*) and now that I’ve got all this free time I’ve been listening back to them.

I thought I would start with this one since it’s relatively recent and we have to wait for a new album anyway. We’ll get to the other albums later.

But first, a confession:

When I was in high school, I didn’t have any social media. There, I said it. It was a constant trial as I met new people and they would say, “I’ll add you on Facebook” or “What’s your Snapchat?” only for me to shift awkwardly and confess that I had neither of those things. Oh, the looks of horror and disbelieve I had to endure! And it wasn’t that I couldn’t have all the social media accounts I wanted. It was much worse: I didn’t want them.

Background

A British alternative rock and synth-pop band, The 1975 first started to make waves in the early 2010’s although the current line-up—Matty Healy (vocals), George Daniel (drums), Ross MacDonald (bass), and Adam Hann (guitar)–have been playing together since 2002. In 2018, they released their third full length album A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships in which feelings of isolation and over stimulation through social media is mimicked in both the instrumentation and the order of the album.

Pleading for Attention

The album properly starts with Give Yourself a Try, with a driving and repetitive electric guitar, bombarding listeners with sound and lyrical content that jumps from topic-to-topic. The effect strengthens a few songs later with Love It If We Made It. A song that consists mostly of singer Healy yelling news headlines and repeating the song’s title with a raspy, pleading tone as if imploring the listener to actually listen. An overwhelming song that moves so fast I had to look up the lyrics afterwards just to understand. The band does an excellent job of using their music to create how it sometimes feels to interact online—there’s so much information whirling around and demanding your attention that the substance gets lost.

Then everything gets stripped away.

Confessions in Isolation

Be My Mistake is a track that is not only vulnerable through the story being told, but the production that had grown over the opening tracks of the album is gone. We get a tentative, and sometimes unsure, acoustic track with vocals and guitar. Suddenly, Healy is left without his band and no one to back-up his vocals. Not only is he front and centre to tell his story of cheating on a romantic partner, but he is left to do it on his own. Not only is this different for the band, who are best known for their synth-dance numbers, but there is no transition between the chaos of the track before and this one. There are songs on this album that are lyrically better at dealing with what it feels like to exist online or address current issues in the world, but this switch—nay, whiplash—between these songs is what truly imposes those feelings on the listener and takes them along with the band. The pop-y dance songs become stumbling confessions.

Love and Drugs

It’s easy to get lost in the up-beat instrumentals and miss the darker topics that are woven throughout this album. The most obvious example is the 80s inspired track It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You). At a first glance, this song appears to be an average love song but the lyrics seem slightly out of place for a tale of romance. This is because it’s not a love song to a person but to substance abuse. Healy has been very open about his struggles with drugs in recent years and the duality of the song relates to the duality of oneself online. There is the side that we want to present to the world: happy or in love or optimistic. And then there’s the side that is hidden in plain sight: the traits we’re not proud of but that are still part of who we are. No matter how thought out our public personas are, those darker qualities still manage to leak through.

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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In an odd way, Healy’s confessions regarding substance abuse have only made this song more popular. With the use of social media, it becomes more and more obvious that people have lost the ability to differentiate between good and bad attention—they just want attention. In a space were there is so much information being displayed, in order to get noticed one has to say something shocking or dividing.

The crazy over stimulation of the internet can be overwhelming but it isn’t the same as having a meaningful interaction with another human being. One instance you can feel as if you are surrounded by a community and the next you come to realize you are alone. All those years of teenage judgment for not having Twitter wasn’t because I had something against social media. I prefer, if I have to speak with people, to do it in person. To feel that connection beyond ads and follower numbers, and briefly exist in the same space.

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