The 1975’s lengthy fourth studio album, “Notes On A Conditional Form,” is an all-encompassing and perhaps over-reaching work that showcases its classic '80s post-punk era sound. However, it also proves to listeners its ability to produce music outside of its norm, such as folksy-pop and Soundcloud-rap-like tracks.
With a hefty 22 tracks, the album’s supposed to be the second part to the band’s on-going project “Music for Cars,” as well as a sequel to its 2018 album, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.”
The opening song, “The 1975,” pays homage to its existing albums, where the title for the opener is identical to the band’s name. The opener for its fourth album, however, presents a speech by Greta Thunberg, a young climate-activist from Sweden, with a synth and instrumental backing.
Thunberg speaks calmly and confidently over a sombre, yet emboldened instrumental backing in the opening lines, saying, “We are right now in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis / And we need to call it what it is / An emergency / We must acknowledge that we do not have the situation under control.”
Although the speech is powerful and The 1975 has well-meaning intentions to allow Thunberg’s words to reach its audience, some may say that a speech over instrumentation is unoriginal. The album starts strong with its activist aura, but the theme isn’t carried out in the remainder of the songs.
The album shifts to the song “People,” where lead singer Matty Healy screams, “Wake up / wake up / wake up!” in garage band-like fashion. The song may have the listener feeling like they’re at a house show in a dingy basement and there are punk-lovers moshing.
The third track, “The End (Music for Cars),” is an emotionally charged instrumental song. It’s the first of a few purely instrumental tracks on the album. “Streaming” is the next instrumental track that combines synth music with gentle flute sounds that let the listener contemplate the emotion of the song, with its melodic rise and fall in instrumentation. The song features one of the only cohesive segues to the next track, “The Birthday Party,”: a mellow song about what house parties are like that features atypical instrumentation by The 1975. The sound is fairly folksy, and the band even uses a banjo. The last instrumental track on the album is “What Should I Say” — a funky house beat.
The 1975, although originating in Manchester, isn’t a stranger to writing songs about America. “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” and “Roadkill” are two American-inspired songs that feature Phoebe Bridgers, an American indie rock musician.
“Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” opens with an acoustic guitar and muted trumpets, a sound that’s synonymous with indie music. Matty said on Apple Music that it reminded him of America in its ambience. Healy sings sarcastically, “I'm in love with Jesus Christ / He's so nice,” expressing his desire to believe in Jesus.
This isn’t the first time Healy’s expressed his internal conflict with religion. Notably on its second album, “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it,” Healy sings about this same dilemma in the songs “If I Believe You” and “Nana.”
The second song that nods at the U.S., “Roadkill,” depicts Healy’s feelings about being on tour and feeling burnt out. This folksy song with Bridgers is one of the lighter and catchier songs. Healy once again lets his feelings about the 2nd Amendment be known by sarcastically singing, “I’m gonna get a gun but it's for my protection / or maybe I’ll get myself a fun knife.” He originally sang about his feelings on gun reform in “I Like America and America Likes Me” from its album “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”
Ambiguous in its genre because of its incorporation of piano, choir music and also what seems to be Healy attempting auto-tuned rap, “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied” is Healy’s self-reflection as an artist. Healy sings elegantly and hopefully, “Life feels like a lie / I need something to be true / Is there anybody out there? / Life feels like there's something missing, maybe it's you / Is there anybody out there?”
“Don’t Worry,” perhaps the most raw and touching track, features Tim Healy, Matty’s father. The song was written by Tim for Matty’s mother who had postpartum depression at the time. The song features a touching piano melody with father and son singing in tandem, “Don't worry, darling, 'cause I'm here with you / Don't worry, darling, oh, don't worry, darling / Don't worry, darling, I'll always love you.”
The closing song, “Guys,” is a love song from Matty to his bandmates that double as his best friends. It breaks down the stereotype among straight men that they shouldn’t outwardly show each other their love. It feels pure and is an uplifting way to conclude the album. Matty sings, “The moment that we started a band / Was the best thing that ever happened / And I wish that we could do it again / It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Lacking a clear theme, “Notes On A Conditional Form” feels different from The 1975’s other albums. It has musical, conceptual and vocal variation. The album is long, over an hour and 20 minutes, but that seems on-brand for the band that’s been breaking industry and genre norms for years. Despite its length, The 1975 manages to keep the listeners’ attention through its variety and should satisfy fans in the meantime.
Contact Audrey Nakagawa at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.