The 1975 are past trying to prove themselves. Their 2018 magnum opus, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, quelled any suspicions that the band were one of the best Britain has to offer.
Continuing in their tradition of complex and confounding album titles, The 1975 have released their fifth long-player, Being Funny in a Foreign Language. This follows their self-titled debut and sophomore album I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, which were steeped in synth-y grooves and angsty lyricism, the aforementioned A Brief Enquiry, and their experimental, Covid-era output, Notes on a Conditional Form.
Two-and-a-half years later, the band have sacked off the sprawling 17 to 22-song track list for a succinct 11. They’ve even dropped their signature ambient interludes, providing listeners with a collection of fully fleshed-out tracks. Yes, including the band’s eponymous opening track.
The album’s ambitious opener sounds, musically, like a rip-off of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’, perhaps a cheeky reference to the band’s breakthrough single ‘Sex’ which lifts its opening line from the same song.
Essentially, it’s a manifesto. It encapsulates what The 1975 are about; their persona and the following they’ve cultivated. Rising keys are tapped with such tenacity – it feels as if it’s building to some kind of lift-off, as dissonant horns are dragged into the musical landscape. It’s worth mentioning that this is The 1975’s jazziest record to date – building on the sombre sax of ‘Me’ and the optimistic refrains of ‘Sincerity is Scary’.
Lyrically, it sets the tone for what is to be a witty, self-aware, and largely tongue-in-cheek album. Peppered with cryptic humour and pop culture references for the internet age, from Aperol to QAnon. “Whimsical / Liberal / Political”, Healy sings. The record is all of these things.
It doesn’t take a genius to see why ‘Happiness’ and ‘I’m in Love With You’ were chosen as singles in the run-up to Being Funny’s release. They’re a pair of buoyant and danceable bops – perhaps the band’s most radio-friendly tunes since 2016 gave us the one-two punch of ‘The Sound’ and ‘Somebody Else’.
‘Looking For Somebody To Love’ continues in a similarly effervescent vein, with repetitious synth notes that swell to the point of oblivion. At times, Matty Healy’s vocals get a little lost in the mix, but the song’s critique of masculinity runs awry and still stands. Meanwhile, ‘Oh Caroline’ builds a little on the experimentalism showcased on Notes…, but equally feels as if it could be performed by a 90s boyband (not derogatory). They’ve enlisted musical heavyweight Jack Antonoff – of girly-pop production fame, and you can see how the glossy sheen on these tracks bear his fingerprints.
Antonoff’s influence is felt perhaps more heavily on the folk-tinged tracks, including album closer ‘About You’, which bares traces of his production style on Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore. Though a collaboration with Swift ultimately never surfaced, you can see how one may have slotted in with ease.
On the other hand, the album’s lead single ‘Part of the Band’ still stands out as a highlight, sonically and lyrically. Its jarring string arrangements – undoubtedly the welcome work of Nick Cave collaborator Warren Ellis – offer listeners a red herring. Though Being Funny… makes for a largely cohesive listen, ‘Part of the Band’ pushes the boundaries without sounding out of place. It contains some of the band’s most iconic and quotable lyrics to date, loaded with self-awareness and sensibility, pretention, and wit.
There’s a sense of continuity again, from previous albums, as Healy appropriates the sort of social media-speak of the “boomers” he appeals to on 2018’s ‘Give Yourself a Try’. For example, the rhyming of “vaccinista” and “barista” with “communista” and “keister”, along with “I like my men how I like my coffee / Full of soy milk and so sweet it won’t offend anybody.” It’s hard to suppress a laugh but we’re all in on the joke.
The 1975’s most heartfelt and personal songs are often their greatest. Take ‘If I Believe You’, the stunning centrepiece of I like it when you sleep… In its placement, Being Funny… offers ‘All I Need To Hear’, a minimalist love song with waltz-like pacing. The steady thud of a drum, a simmering cymbal, and some slightly distorted guitars support Healy’s raw vocals. This track, along with ‘Human Too’, which deals with difficult emotions from “anger” to “shame”, offers some welcome relief from the band’s cryptic humour.
A contrast arrives with the middling tempo and festive family reunion storyline of ‘Wintering’. Its jaunty melody and observational humour combine for an easy listen.
The album’s lengthiest and penultimate track, ‘About You’ also stands out as one of its best. Luscious string arrangements and cinematic flourishes accompany a song that’s ostensibly about long-distance love. The song is romantic and cathartic in the way that ‘Robbers’ or even Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ are.
The 1975 are the ultimate marmite band – the band you love to hate and hate to love and reading this review might not change your opinion of them, but it may give you a sense of why they continue to be so culturally pervasive. Make no mistake: this is The 1975 at their very best!
Being Funny in a Foreign Language by The 1975 is out on 14th October. You can order it here.
See us on TikTok with Matty Healy here!