Album review: Notes On A Conditional Form by The 1975 ★★★

My boyfriend has been briefed; he’ll be eating alone tonight whilst I scoff Notes On A Conditional Form, a whopping 22 tracks, in the bedroom. He retreats with a wry smile, well-accustomed to these rituals. Listening to The 1975 threatens to conjure my seventeen-year-old self. They’re a band who try on genres like clothes, playfight with their ego and frequently contradict themselves. The lyrics are conversational, the melodies bombastic and the hairstyles…questionable. As architects of millennial melodrama they are naturally divisive. Try-hards? Auteurs? Pretentious? Genius? It’s what makes these postmodern polymorphs so fascinating.

Adjusting my headphones and closing my eyes, I welcome the opportunity to let the dystopia of 2020 fall away for a bit. An hour and twenty minutes to be exact. It proves to be quite the distraction, if a little dizzying.

I feel like a Borrower stuck in a Pinball Wizard machine ricocheting between genres. Shoegaze. Punk. Garage. Dancehall. Pop. Folk. Electronica. It’s practically a compilation. Whilst this demonstrates The 1975’s admirable versatility, it also reveals a lack of cohesion on the record. It feels unfocused. Deliberate? Quite possibly.

Curiously, frontman Matty Healy describes the inspiration for NOACF as “the beauty of the M25 and all those lights, going to McDonald’s and listening to garage records in a haze in a Peugeot 206.” This makes a lot of sense to me. Sonically, it’s a nocturnal joy ride with a Big Mac in hand. Soaring blood sugar levels. Coursing adrenaline. Cravings. Excess. The inevitable fructose slump.

The opening three tracks, a political triptych and EP in itself, are thrilling. The 1975 features a compelling collaboration with Swedish activist Gretha Thunberg who delivers a rousing essay emerging from fragments of spectral piano. This powerful call to arms propels into the anarchic zeitgeist of People followed by The End (Music For Cars), a majestic orchestral piece with all the panoramic grandeur of BBC’s Planet Earth

After a couple of sharp turns into tender, acoustic cul-de-sacs and some off-road Americana, If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) dazzles as the standout track perfectly capturing the unabashed joie de vivre of eighties power-pop. It’s a detour on this record, but a welcome one. 

I Think There’s Something You Should Know, Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied and Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) boast the most sparkling production on the record, a riot of textures. This does, however, signal the last acceleration before an excess of glitching, experimental tracks and maddening auto-tune à la Kanye West puncture the tires.

Stranded in the lay-by waiting for the AA to arrive, Don’t Worry Guys are “I love you, man” flavoured travel sweets from the glove box. Saccharine nostalgia. Rain drums against the windscreen. Sodium street lights flicker. You crave your bed and pint of water. It’s all very 1975. Am I glad to have gone along for ride? Always. But I wish I’d gone home sooner.

By Mateo Oxley @MateoOxley

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