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Album reviews
Artist:
The 1975
Album:
Notes on a Conditional Form
Release year:
2020
Label:
Dirty Hit
03 June 2020 / by Calvin Leung (author)


Genres: Electropop, Indie Rock, Genre-fusion mayhem

 

In 2018, The 1975 released A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, a pop album that is rightly regarded as one of the most experimental and daring of that year. NME even hailed them as the next Radiohead and the band set off to record an even more experimental record in Notes on a Conditional Form.

Here is where the album review takes a stop and a quick story about U2 is told instead. In the early 1990s, U2 abandoned their mega rock star image and recorded two truly groundbreaking albums in Achtung Baby and Zooropa. Spurred on by the critical and financial success, they released their boldest, most experimental album in PopPop turned out to be a massive flop critically and alienated their fans. To rescue their careers, U2 released a safe album in All That You Can’t Leave Behind and the rest is best forgotten. Unfortunately, The 1975 might be heading down the same route with their latest release.

To their credit, the album still features some of the band's strongest work to date. “People” is a thumping two and a half minute long industrial punk track that has the energy to revive corpses. The song is ridiculous in the best way possible and shows how capable and diverse the band is at their best.

The band’s seeming obsession with Burial is seen best on “Frail State of Mind”, a blend of UK Garage and rock music that they somehow pull off flawlessly, with a groove reminiscent of Jamie xx’s In Colour. The dreamy songs on the album, as expected, are very enjoyable. With “Me and You Together Song” and “Then Because She Goes”, the band once again proves that they have a strong grasp of the aesthetics of 90s’ dream pop and shoegaze.

“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” and “Guys” are two new wave-inspired indie rock tracks that would not be out of place on the band’s first two albums, the former being light on its feet and easily danceable while the latter features an impressively catchy melody along with some truly heartfelt lyrics from Matty about his bandmates.

Apart from those tracks however, the album simply does not work. The genre variation presented throughout its 22 tracks is brave but lacks the overarching cohesion seen on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships and consequentially suffers from extreme tonal whiplash. Within the span of three tracks, the album goes from country rock (“Roadkill”) to jangle-pop (“Me and You Together Song”) to UK garage (“I Think There’s Something You Should Know”), the lack of cohesion makes the album sound more like a badly put together playlist than that of a full-length record.

The album is also way too long for it to be enjoyable on repeated listens. Music critics love using the word bloated to describe an album, and this one is beyond bloated. Not only is the record heavy with filler, some songs proper are hindered by their sheer length. “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”, the enjoyable duet with Phoebe Bridgers, is held back by the meandering post-chorus “ooohs” and even on a good track such as “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”, it can be improved if they just trimmed some material off the song, or just used the single edit. Meanwhile, “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” is a funky soul track with a 70s feel. Unfortunately, this attempt is less thought out than the similar but much more effective "Sincerity is Scary" from their last record. 

The 1975 is the strongest when they are writing pop songs and bringing in experimental elements to fill them out. Notes on a Conditional Form should have been the great album that pushes The 1975 into superstardom with both the critics and the general audience, and with some of the songs on the album it showed that it could have been it. Instead, we are stuck with a baggy, milquetoast Gen-Z version of Pop. Let’s just all hope their story will not follow the same path as that of U2. 

 

Rating: 3.5/10

The author

Calvin Leung

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