Back at their best
Philip Giouras
12:58 11th October 2022

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When The 1975 released their self-titled debut almost a decade ago, few predicted the experimental evolution their sound would undertake. They seemingly had created their untouchable magnum opus with their critically lauded third album, 2018s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. An album which struck the perfect balance between frontman Matty Healy’s air of pretentiousness and his ability to produce lines of profound poetry. 

Their previous record Notes on a Conditional Form was beset by delays, an incoherent narrative, a bloated twenty-two-song tracklist and an unrestrained Healy who pumped the album full of sharp experimental left turns and self-indulgence. It was also hampered by being released in the midst of the pandemic. When people were searching for solace, you could argue it was the worst time for The 1975 to challenge their listeners. 

So for the first time in perhaps their entire career The 1975 are approaching an album release on the back foot, whilst their live acclaim remains untouched following a triumphant last-minute headline return to Reading and Leeds, there was a real concern coming into the record that the group might be unable to find that killer spark, especially with a muted reception to some of the album's selection of singles. 

When pressing play on Being Funny in a Foreign Language I couldn’t help but be struck by an overwhelming sense of deja-vu, not as you first assume by the group's penchant for opening their album with a self-titled track, but instead by the fact, the album kicks off with one of the most iconic opening riffs of the last twenty years. You’re immediately greeted by the iconic synth thuds of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’. No longer sticking to the formula of reimagining their signature opener in the style of the album to follow, the beloved theme tune is gone. Signalling a total change of pace, or the ultimate reintroduction to a band that pride themselves on reinvention - it’s a sign that things are different here, instead choosing to dedicate this era to their inspirations rather than their own past. 

Like the aforementioned LCD classic, The 1975’s new self-titled opener plays homage to modern youth with its lyrical content. It’s Healy at his best, most relatable and humorous (something that is consistent across the album) spouting out gems such as “making an aesthetic out of not doing well”, “I’m sorry about my twenties I was learning the ropes” and “sorry if you’re living and you’re seventeen”. Like its sonic inspiration, the synths swirl and fill the air around you as they build to a cathartic and overpowering release. It’s not just an outstanding introduction, it may be one of the best pieces of music the group have ever created, even if it is heavily reliant on that nostalgic riff. 

"...even after dozens of listens, I still feel like I'm only scratching the surface with the record - like a goldmine of perfectly balanced layers waiting patiently to be noticed." 

It’s the first sign that The 1975 are willing to try something really different on this record. The second is that Being Funny In A Foreign Language has done away with the bloat, ditching the fillers and fighting off the tendency to trail away - with this album coming in at that sweet 45-minute, eleven-track length. Noticeably, Matty Healy and George Daniels have also seemingly loosened their grip on the production reigns, bringing in ever present hitmaker producer Jack Antonoff who thankfully feels unnoticeable on the record. Whilst not a criticism, Antonoff has a tendency to be targeted for his signature sound/style that accompanies all of his collaborations. Here he seemingly takes a backseat, working by reigning in the group, making tracks tighter as well as assisting as the group lean into a new sonical moment and an kitsch-pop centred direction. 

That sugary sweet direction seems to be heavily inspired by 80s synthpop and some of the genre’s biggest power hits. There’s a fullness and richness to the group's sound which frequently finds them blending acoustic guitar, soaring strings and synths. That overlapping cacophony elevates some of the more simpler pop hits into fascinating arrangements. Take, ‘I’m In Love With You’ for example, whilst lyrically it’s a very simple and delightful ode to romance, it’s accompanying instrumental is heavenly and complex.

‘Happiness’, like the title suggests, is utter joy and leans heavily into smooth jazz, the track buoyed by the timeless sound of a well-performed saxophone solo. ‘Looking for Somebody to Love’ swaps the sax for a Swing and Sway style rhythm, it wouldn’t feel amiss soundtracking a Footloose reboot with its fondness for a sugary-sweet clap and finger snap along. It’s a hit in every sense of the word. Meanwhile ‘Oh Caroline’ is without a doubt as perfect as pop can be; it has an intelligent groove, an anthemic chorus, and Healy manages to find that sweet spot of yearning emotion in his tone and delivery.

There is a one overarching lyrical theme consistent throughout the record, with love forming the base of most tracks. Healy’s relationship with acclaimed alternative pioneer FKA Twigs had for the most part been kept heavily private over the last few years, and whilst it seems they may no longer be together, it definitely feels like their story has formed a large part of the lyrical content. Whether that’s the aforementioned sprinkly pop of ‘I’m In Love With You’, the Simon and Garfunkel reminiscent ‘All I Need to Hear’ or most notably on the bittersweet and beautiful concluding sentiment ‘When We Are Together’. 

Sonically aligning itself with their previous successful experiment in alternative folk ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’, the track shows a resounding growth from Healy. For the first time, he’s unafraid to recount the twirling highlights of a relationship with a rare seen honesty and vulnerability from a frontman that has a tendency to hide his pain with a joke, thankfully here he plucks effortlessly at your heartstrings instead. 

Two of the record's biggest highlights come in the form of lead single ‘Part Of The Band’ and the band's experimentation with a festive hit in the form of ‘Wintering’. Both blend Healy at his most humorous lyrically with his most luxurious sonically. ‘Part Of The Band’ implements glitchy strings across the sort of alternative folk anthem you’d expect from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon whilst ‘Wintering’ is a surprise case of a modern band not just flirting with the festive market but making a genuinely interesting, original and sweet christmas song that seemingly will have a lot of staying power both in and out of the festive scenes while being destined a regular feature at christmases to come. Like a modern ‘Power Of Love’, it defies the festive period while surrendering to it. 

Despite its concise, compact nature; even after dozens of listens later I still feel like I'm only scratching the surface with the record, like a goldmine of perfectly balanced layers waiting patiently to be noticed and unpeeled with every replay. Following what many considered to be a step back with previous album Notes on a Conditional Form, on Being Funny In A Foreign Language, The 1975 really have never sounded better. 

Being Funny In A Foreign Language arrived October 14th via Dirty Hit

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

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