Originally posted on Medium.
The 1975’s self-titled debut EP came to me at a time in high school where questions of sex, drugs, and accountability consumed my narrow world vision. I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It followed my thoughts into the deep as I questioned god and the concept of young love while coping with the aftermath of a sonic boom of an end to a relationship. Over a year ago, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships gave me the expression of political frustration and social anxiety with the perfect tinge of optimism as I navigated my way through college – attempting to plan for my future in an age of unknown modernity.
Now, in a world climate that somehow feels to have been put on hold yet is spinning faster than ever during the global pandemic, The 1975 released their fourth-studio album Notes On A Conditional Form on May 22, 2020. While having promoted the album for a full year leading up to its release, the band seems to have written an album for apocalypse before the end even began.
I could write an entire analysis of the band’s lead singer, writer, and producer Matty Healy, his need for the extremes and, simultaneously, his ability to mock them. Pitchfork has called the group “a thrillingly unreasonable band for unreasonable times,” which could not have more accurately captured the feeling fans have held during the now eight single releases that have preceded NOACF.
These singles have expressed a wide-range of feelings and musical styles that are all connected through one theme: global existentialism of the modern age. Lyrically, Healy takes a break from the usual imagery of his past drug addiction as a romanticized relationship, and instead looks outward at the world falling apart around him.
The band has a tradition of releasing the first track of each album, all titled “The 1975.” In their first three albums, “The 1975” track presented the same poem sung over varying instrumentals that would individually set the tone for each album. This time around, they decided to break the pattern. Expecting the usual ambient instrumentals as the iconic sexual innuendos “Step into your skin, I’d rather jump into your bones” flow through our ears, the introduction to NOACF would instead be a five minute speech on the “emergency” of the climate crisis, recited by activist Greta Thunberg. Upon hearing this single, and then in turn being brought to tears with the power of the broken expectation, it was clear that this record would be more blatantly politically driven than their past releases.
The group’s frustrations towards their society’s tendency to enable and deflect remained a consistent theme throughout the next released singles. While the group’s sound is most recognized for their 1980s pop synth layers with hints of 90s plastic guitar lines, the lead single “People” left me in shock when I was faced with the loud, angsty sound of a guitar tone that is meant to not be overlooked. This song is a call towards youth activism, expressing the complexities about the youth, by the youth, for the youth.
Although “People” was first released on BBC Radio 1 in August 2019, it’s relevance has only increased in the aftermath of COVID-19 shut downs. The repeating lyrics “People like people / They want alive people” and “I don’t like going outside so bring me everything here” has somehow become more relatable in the latter half of 2020 than it was at its release.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up!” Healy’s nearly straining vocals hit your ears, calling listeners to action within the first ten seconds of the song. While young people are expected to have a sense of immortality, this song expresses the feeling of internalized dread towards a future that is not promised. This is especially prevalent in the first verse’s lyrics of “It’s Monday morning and we have only got a thousand of them left.” Climate change, mass shootings, terrorism, and now a global pandemic have upended an entire young generation’s sense of security; The 1975 refuses to let our culture underestimate the resulting mental effects and frustrations.
Although providing an instrumental contrast to “People” with its more traditionally The 1975 sounding drum beats, the lyrical capacity of “Frail State of Mind” delves deeper into the anxieties mentioned in the previous song. This time, they are represented as one side of a social interaction.
Once again expressing the mental limitations keeping him indoors, Healy told Zane Lowe of BBC Radio 1 that the song is about anxiety caused by the fact that “we’re having a global anxiety attack.” Both the song and its music video demonstrate a low grade anxiety attack that is pulsing through the world, increasing in relevance as we are kept indoors by social necessity rather than individual capacity.
The last single to be released, “Guys” is also the satisfying conclusion track of NOACF. While the majority of artistic content released in promotion of the album has held a sense of cultural emergency, “Guys” is a love song between the members in the band. Healy is known for lyrics that paint his substance addiction as a lover, but here that trend is broken as he expresses his brotherly love towards his bandmates.
“Guys” serves as a refreshing break from the chaos, ending the album on note that reminds us of comfort without going so far to provide a false sense of optimism. As the album has progressed through different levels of anxieties, this ending reminds us to reach out to our friends as quarantine periods are extended and our abilities for socialization are limited.
I am not sure if The 1975 knew how culturally representative NOACF would become even before its full release, but I am sure that they have written the perfect album for the world during this dramatic shift. While their last album was based on the phrase “modernity has failed us,” NOACF demonstrates the effects of global anxiety on both the individual and the culture. It is our soundtrack for the unfolding apocalypse, and all we can do now is sit back and listen.