Written by Carmen Mueller
It has been two years since The 1975 released an album and the English band finally dropped their third studio album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The band that is known for their electronic alternative sound and neon aesthetic have brought us an album that is full of surprises and extremely personal songs.
The project showcases a mix of styles with a combination of acoustic guitar ballads, electronic and synth heavy tracks and even some jazz inspired songs. Opening the album is the introduction that has graced the past two albums from the English group. “The 1975” on this album is by far one of the most experimental of all the renditions of the intro and also is one of the most unusual on this album. It starts off with piano and then bursts into a bunch of vocal effects and creates an Imogen Heap-esque vibe. This style is seen again on tracks like “How to Draw/Petrichor” which is one of the most interesting songs on the album. The first takes notes from the introduction, and uses a huge amount of glitchy synth and electronic effects that lays on top of a very sweet track. It's abrupt and abrasive but sort of fascinating; and once it slides into Petrichor, I couldn't help but smile. The highly produced song builds and creates a smooth danceable track that would be amazing in a live setting. Another song that took me by surprise with how it sounds is “The Man Who Married a Robot/ Love Theme”; just by the title alone, I knew it was going to be a pretty peculiar song, and I was right. This track is a social commentary on internet addiction, a lack of real human interaction, validation, and loneliness through a robotic SIRI-esque monologue which is sort of unsettling to listen to. “Love Theme” however is a more orchestral style that is scarily juvenile while remaining really airy and beautiful. It’s a strange mix, but The 1975 seem to be very good and combining polar opposite vibes and creating something layered and dynamic.
There are some songs on this album that really showcase the band’s political feelings. For example, “Love It If We Made It” is a quintessential The 1975 sound of subtle drums with airy synth that points out societal controversies like the criminalization of marijuana, white privilege, and heroin addiction. The song pays tribute to Lil Peep who passed away late last year while taking shots at Donald Trump and his presidency. It's a highly political song while still having a hint of positivity by saying, even though modernity has failed us at least we've made it this far. American politics also make an appearance in the track “I Like America & America Likes Me”. A synth and electronic heavy jam about gun violence in America and the availability of fire arms in the states. They talk about how it’s far harder for people to get designer brands like Supreme, yet machine guns are easier to get. There is also a plea to speak up which could be a way of urging people to protest, rally, and vote for change. Either way, it’s super relevant to culture right now and how things are for America. “Give Yourself a Try” is an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek tune that pokes fun at the idea of growing up and the assumption that you'll have things all figured out. Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean knowing what’s going on, but you sort of have to allow yourself to live and figure it out. Healy's voice is smooth and sweet while matching the sound of the synth heavy beat. Another personal take on culture is “Sincerity is Scary”. It’s a jazzy song with super cool bass and horns that comments on how often people will be ridiculed when they speak openly and how feeling very human emotions is demonized.
There are a few tracks that focus on relationships on this album that cover a wide spectrum of emotions. “Mine” a piano based track that features some flutes, trumpets, and clarinets which makes it a really jazzy yet sweet song. It’s a strangely romantic song about not wanting to get married, but it works. There is a confidence in the song that says, “yeah, I love you and I adore that you’re mine, but I don’t want to marry”. On the other hand, “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” is a song about a relationship that is really unhealthy and built on jealousy and deceit. The track was one of the singles, and while I really like the poppy electronic vibes, the lyrics in the chorus is sort of dull and redundant. It’s a fun song, but I prefer the music to the lyrics. Continuing the theme of cheating is “Be My Mistake”. This guitar ballad is about a current hookup and the comparison of how that differs from the intensity of another lover. It's a devastatingly romantic song that acknowledges the lust and the mistake that will take place and the realization that something better is already out there. It doesn’t change the fact that he’s still going to cheat, but it follows his mindset as he settles on the fact that he will be regretful. Taking a more sinister turn is “Inside Your Mind” which seems like it could be a really sweet song, but don’t be fooled. Healy sounds incredibly beautiful over a rumbling piano and guitar driven beat, but he’s literally singing about cracking open someone’s head to read their thoughts. It’s sadistic and twisted but done in a really beautiful way. And “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is just heartbreaking. The track gives me an old school romantic rock sound with its simple drum, horns, and choir. It’s sweet because he’s declaring just how in love he is, but the other person is just entirely indifferent and ready to leave. It’s smooth song with a great guitar solo towards the end, and to me, this is a brilliant display of how beautiful this band is.
Some of the deeply personal and raw songs on this album deal with Healy’s experiences with rehab and drug addiction. Songs like “Surrounded by Heads And Bodies” recalls the time that Healy had went into rehab for substance abuse. The track talks of Angela, a woman who had been there as well and depicts just how hard the experience was. It’s a hauntingly beautiful track that is stripped down to the acoustic guitar and simple production that perfectly pairs with the story of the song. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” energetically and excitedly depicts life involving drug abuse. It’s such a cheerful, guitar driven song with really sad subject matter; they say, “I know I’m falling in to deep and losing myself, but living is just better with you”. And finally, the last track on the album “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”, which is cinematic, bold, and beautiful. It’s a heart wrenching song about suicide and how if living is hard, just try to survive until things get easier. And right when you think it's about to end, it dives into an eerie orchestral section that leaves you feeling a little uneasy, but also curious about what could come next.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationship is such a wonderful surprise to me; I don’t particularly follow them closely, but I always look fondly on the few songs I knew of theirs. But this project showed me just how complex and intimate this band is. There isn’t any sugarcoating or pandering, it’s honest, experimental, and emotional. Some of my favorite tracks have to be “Give Yourself A Try”, “Love It If We Made It”, “Sincerity is Scary”, and “Inside Your Mind”, but there really isn’t a dud on this album. If you haven’t checked out this album, please do so! You won’t regret it.