The 1975 – Being Funny In A Foreign Language

After one of the most polarizing, provocative and sometimes pretentious bands somehow released a couple of its greatest works back-to-back after expanding the tracklist and letting frontman Matt Healy’s cluttered mind roam wherever it wanted to, it seems The 1975 have reversed course with their latest. Standing at only 11 tracks in length, that mind of Healy’s is back on full display – but in an increasingly politicized world falling apart at the seams, most of his galaxy-brained musings and satirical acknowledgements of both sides mostly only serve to remind this listener why I found him so profoundly unlikeable at the outset of his career. Spending about half of the project’s runtime complaining about backlash he received for some truly out-of-touch decisions made and the other trying to drop hot takes about complicated issues he seemingly knows nothing about, the band does partially make up for it by delivering some of the 80s-inspired pop-rock worship they’re so well known for under the guiding hand of the expert on the subject – Jack Antonoff. Still, when Healy is treating things like vaccines, shootings and race relations like it’s all one big joke, it’s hard to get on his side.

As is tradition, the project opens with a track simply called “The 1975.” Different interpretations of the same lyrics in their early career, the band switched it up on their 2020 album by replacing it with a speech from Greta Thunberg. This time, we have an entirely new song – and I wish we could have heard a different speech instead. Backed by a chaotic mess of pianos that sounds like someone’s toddler pounding away at the keys indiscriminately, Healy begins a “We Didn’t Start The Fire” style lyrical overload gesturing at various messes surrounding us. It doesn’t come off with the same charm because Healy also intersperses lyrics framing his surface-level analyses as very important – and a couple of immature jokes – as the distortion rises up underneath him and drowns him out. The mixing issues are probably intentional, meant to represent the global catastrophes, but it doesn’t mean it sounds good. An Antonoffian sax-backed instrumental outro picks things back up and the energy continues into the track “Happiness.” Easily the album’s standout, it’s funny that it’s the only one where Healy isn’t trying to say anything profound, instead delivering a jubilant ode to an exciting relationship – it’s the one where he comes across the most human. With a great, bass-heavy funk groove mixed with the usual 1975 guitar syncopation on top, it comes across like a jam session that doesn’t get old past its 5-minute runtime. “I’d go too far just to have you near” is an oddly poetic lyric, and the band prove they’re still great at anthemic hooks – I just wish Healy didn’t have to throw in his other ramblings elsewhere.

The worst of them appear on the back-to-back tracks “Looking For Somebody (To Love)” and “Part Of The Band.” The former is essentially an idea that they lifted from “Pumped Up Kicks” taken another level up, as the band delivers their most joyful-sounding instrumental and melodies as Healy sings about families weeping over dead bodies. It was already in poor taste, but the song is given an even more sickening twist when some lyrics reveal Healy is referring to a British shooting by a famous leader in the misogynistic incel community – a subject that Healy extends a truly uncomfortable bit of compassion towards, criticizing the culture that led to his actions and wondering if things would have turned out differently if someone had shown him love. It might be a good sentiment for a criminal with different motivations, but he really makes it seem like he partially shares the entitlement towards romance that led to this violence. “Part of the Band” is another lyrical mishmash like the opener, backed by lurching orchestral strings as Healy analyzes himself and wonders if he’s “ironically woke.” In a verse seemingly stereotyping the appearance and opinions of the modern liberal, he includes their vaccination status, as if the alternative were a valid option. On Genius, Healy admits he doesn’t know what the song is about – he’s essentially just listing buzzwords to provoke, actually saying nothing.

The track “Oh Caroline” brings the band’s classic sound back with a nice piano hook, returning to their expertise in pop pastiche. There are quite a few songs on this project that sound eerily like other big hits, and this one is undeniably Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.” It’s a great song, and it’s imitation similarly sounds pretty good, making it a standout on this project. It’s nowhere near as bad as the pastiche on its follow-up, “I’m In Love With You,” which is painfully bubblegum. With an obnoxiously repetitive chorus, Healy hasn’t realized that admitting that he isn’t paying attention, spellbinded by love as his partner – who he specifically points out as Black – shows him something culturally important to her isn’t as charming or romantic as he thinks it is. Healy has mentioned that the goal with the track “All I Need To Hear” was to make something original that “sounds like a cover,” which he certainly does here. Inspired by Paul Simon, it’s a pretty derivative soulful piano ballad. It’s one of the better songs here from a musical standpoint and it’s impressive that they recorded it in a single take with the great vocal performance and the soothing energy it exudes. After everything here, however, it’s difficult to get on board. “Wintering” finds the band depicting a family gathering over Christmas, making the instrumental just as overly upbeat as the music that would back it as he paints portraits of his family members. Healy once again proves his lack of self-awareness – it’s clearly meant to come across as lovingly playful ribbing, but a couple moments feel oddly cruel, especially when he mocks his mother’s age. He can’t help but bring up politics one more time either, banishing the notion from dinner.

The album winds down with one more solid track and a truckload of more complaints. “About You” finds Healy reaching into his lower register for one of his favourite songwriting techniques – a love song on the surface with slightly creepy and morbid overtones. Antonoff collaborated with none other than Nick Cave on the instrumental, and it’s reverb-drenched strings give it a good backdrop while the band’s guitarist’s wife sounds great singing the bridge. Unfortunately sandwiching the track are “Human Too,” a spare and empty-sounding track focusing on Healy’s vulnerable falsetto begging us to feel sorry for him for receiving justified criticism, and “When We Are Together,” a final set of stream-of-consciousness lyrical randomness in the context of a relationship where he whines about being called a racist and a gaslighter over a rustic and folksy backdrop.

When it all comes together, like it did on their 2018 and 2020 projects, there’s a lot of good to be found in the messy approach The 1975 takes – sometimes there’s something profound to be discovered amidst all of the pretension. On this one, all of the band’s worst tendencies rose to the surface. I can’t help but wonder how good the band would be with a different leader at the helm.

Favourite Tracks: Happiness, Oh Caroline, About You

Least Favourite Track: Looking For Somebody (To Love)

Score: 4/10

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