Are They Messiahs or Just Very Naughty Boys?!
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The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and Comparisons to Radiohead’s Epochal OK Computer
IT is not often you have these seismic albums arrive…
IN THIS PHOTO: The 1975 (photoed back in 2016)
that gets critics drooling and writing the sort of words usually reserved for life-changing records and biblical events! The 1975’s latest new album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, is out on Friday and, as the name suggests, seems to suggest an investigation into modern trends; the way we communicate and how we can be too drawn into the machine. The Manchester band is just about to release their third record (another is already planned for next year) and ever since 2013’s The 1975, the band have grown in stature and confidence. 2016’s i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it split critics; not just because of its long-winded and odd title but the material was not as sharp as it could have been – in places, that is. It seems modern life and politics has played a bigger role into A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and that sense of understanding, emotion and revelation has wowed critics! In this interview with NME; lead singer Matt Healy spoke about the Internet and its dangers:
““Understand that the internet is an attention economy,” says Matty. “Become aware that the thing on Twitter where you scroll and it waits to update is a slot machine technique, an addiction-based mechanism. We’re not in 2004, it doesn’t need to do that. It’s there to keep you excited and to keep you off Facebook. And Facebook has an infinite scrolling feed to keep you off Twitter. And YouTube does automated videos at the end to keep you off Netflix. And Netflix lets you skip the intro to so you don’t get bored and then plays another fucking thing. In the real world they’re vying for your money, online they’re vying for your attention”.
He noted how technological change has made us more depressed...
“When text messaging first came about, it was still a one-to-one negotiation: I propose an idea or something to you, you exchange back to me,” says Matty. “When you get to 2010/2011, this new model of communication that exists is that you put something out there into the world and then you wait for a reaction. Now, if you look at the depression rates amongst young men, the correlation between these two things is very measurably concise, and amongst young women it’s insane”.
Technology and its changing role in our lives is being noted by many bands and, in a year that has seen observant, observational and hugely inspiring records like Joy as an Act of Resistance (IDLES) arrive; it is understandable bands like The 1975 are incorporating more impressions on modern love, technology and mental-health into their work. What makes their new record so varied and appealing is that blend of traditional love songs and heartbreak together with deeper, modern-day subjects. Healy, if the album is to be viewed as a work of genius, is not sure whether music itself makes us more happy:
“It’s a myth that people make music to be happy,” Matty said back then, in the West London offices of Dirty Hit. “Like, what’s even the point in happiness? It doesn’t serve anything you know? A good analogy is people working in the early days of radioactive material, exposing themselves to lethal levels of radiation in order to achieve a goal. Happiness isn’t involved in it. My creative pursuit doesn’t elicit that much happiness because a lot of the time it’s about the darker side of me. And that’s not a depressing thought, I think a lot of the time that’s the way it should be, if you’re really really challenging yourself. But yeah, it’s fucking torture”.
The album, conducted by Dan Stubbs, delved into the creative process and how the album came together. Healy’s addiction issues clouded the early recording stages and it seemed like A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships could easily have derailed before it even begun. There was therapy and recovery and, whilst he enjoys the odd fag, it seems the lead has cleaned up and is sober. You can hear a man going through these changes and wrestling with himself; trying to find real love and, at the same time, battling against the machine and its role in the world. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is out on Friday but, from the songs we have already heard, we get a good impression of what the record is about:
“If you’ve been following the band’s campaign, you’ll know that the songs they’ve put out so far create a picture of an utterly unknowable album: ‘TooTime…’ is bouncy piano house, ‘Give Yourself A Try’ is fuzzed-up pop and ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, released last week, is glitchy neo-jazz. There seems to be no theme; where ‘TooTime’ is wilful fluff (“I’m at a point in my life where I love anything that just makes me feel good,” says Matty), another pre-release track, ‘Love It If We Made It’ is a towering and ingenious protest song. It casts no opinion on anything, but simply describes images and soundbites of the modern world: “Poison me daddy… A beach of drowning three-year-olds…”
“It’s a bit of a… what’s a good word for curveball? It’s the least kind of on-the-nose, sticky record that I’ve ever done, there’s no theme, there’s no gags. In fact, no, there are shitloads of gags, but it’s not like so self-aware and so ‘am I a rockstar or am I a dickhead or am I an egomaniac?’ this time. It’s just really honest. But it’s not weird, because what would be a weird 1975 record is if we brought out something like that Arctic Monkeys record that was very different for them but has a consistent sound. I don’t know how to do that, that’s a skill I do not have”.
One reason why IDLES’ latest album has won plaudits and towering reviews is its relevance and fearless tones. The band tackle toxic masculinity and depression; they look at Brexit and how the country is changing and, because of that, people have these ersatz leaders who are speaking the truth and understand what we are all going through. It is that important step away from mainstream and cliché subjects – band talking about love and the same old crap – that has captivated people. Even when The 1975 talk about relationships and hearts on A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships they are doing so in a way like very few others have done.
It is clear critics have been caught and dumbstruck by what they have heard on A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. Stereogum provided their take:
“Whether people like it or not, there’s a real chance the 1975 are on track to be one of the defining names of the decade, a real chance they have a true generation-defining classic in them. There is a noble cause in their work so far, a young band not looking back as they careen headlong into all kinds of treacherous territory. That’s what makes the 1975 what they are, what makes them worth paying attention to as they mutate and try and find their way to the next sound. Because somewhere within this band, there is something that is indeed very in tune with our times”.
NME echoed that and provided their thoughts regarding the band’s album:
“‘Mine’ is a breathtaking piece of work, and one of many here that proves that The 1975’s core songwriting team of Matty Healy and George Daniel are not just the most accomplished and creative duo working in pop right now but the closest thing we have to a present-day Lennon and McCartney, a pair whose golden touch makes them near-enough unassailable. Clever and profound, funny and light, serious and heartbreaking, painfully modern and classic-sounding all at the same time, ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ is a game-changing album, one that challenges The 1975’s peers – if, indeed, there are any – to raise their game...
PHOTO CREDIT: Danny North for NME
So Healy had set out to describe his own experience, but in doing so has produced an artefact that sums up millennial life, a magpie pop masterpiece that could only be made right now and right here. And for every stupid joke you’ve heard about avocados and house prices and safe spaces and jazz hands, this is a piece of art that shows another side to a generation, one of achievement, wit and humanity in the most confusing of times. Clever boys”.
Consequence of Sound gave their viewpoint:
“A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships stretches the definition of what a rock album can be in 2018. Through empathy and a willingness to engage, Healy, a self-described “millennial who baby boomers like,” writes songs for a largely misunderstood generation without playing into the trap of lambasting an entire group of people”.
The Line of Best Fit also commented on the Radiohead similarities:
“The album ends on a self-consciously euphoric note, with the carefully constructed soaring indie of “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes).” It could be read as the natural end point of the album’s commitment to earnestness, or a high-concept song designed for end-of-encore sing-alongs: a final Britpop goodbye in the world’s dying embers, because we all want to go out to the sound of something familiar. That it could be read as either of these things – sincere or meta – is what makes The 1975, and this record, so compelling...
Comparisons will be made to Radiohead’s OK Computer, another era-defining third album that examines the internet’s effects on our interpersonal lives. But A Brief Inquiry… actually resembles Kid A’s best two tracks, “How to Disappear Completely” and “Motion Picture Soundtrack” – music that wrenches magnificence from the barest bones of humanity. By interrogating the strategies we employ to keep on living in an impossible world, this astonishing album has become one”.
It is a rather bold claim comparing The 1975’s latest with something as revered and titanic as OK Computer but many critics are going there. Like Radiohead’s epochal and genre-fusing masterpiece; The 1975 are able to mix the simple and traditional with something a little unexpected. Talking with Pitchfork; Matty Healy was asked about the band’s U.K. Garage stab in How to Draw/Petrichor. Radiohead, on OK Computer, has raw rockers like Electioneering; it is seems The 1975 were keen to open their palette when it came to writing a song like this:
“Growing up in the UK, if the radio was on past 7 o’clock, it was dance music. It’s the soundtrack to nighttime, to being up too late, to being a kid. So it’s not so much us trying to pay homage to the records we were into as teenagers as much as it was the sound of being young to me. That’s why “How to Draw” is really easy for us, because that’s our identity. That’s where we come from”.
Love It If We Made It has a political edge and it is a song that seems to be very of-the-moment and represents what many of us are all thinking – with lines including Donald Trump and Kanye West:
“Basically, every day post-I Like It When You Sleep, I got [Dirty Hit Records product manager] Ed [Blow] to pick up the tabloid newspapers on the way into the office so I could eventually, after a year, have every single tabloid headline and write a song about that”.
Not only are the lyrical themes impressive and wide but the compositions are varied and eye-opening. This is not a traditional Pop/Rock album in any sense. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationship, in the same way as Radiohead experimented on OK Computer in 1997 and Kid A in 2000, steps in different directions and uses traditional instruments, effects and genres like Jazz. Sincerity Is Scary features the brilliant Roy Hargrove. That recording experience, evidently, was impactful:
“...So intense. You’d get him in the room and you’d be so scared. He did the trumpets on D’Angelo’s Voodoo, which is the most iconic brass section for us ever. He was the greatest musician I’ve ever been in a room with, by a mile”.
The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme is close to one of Radiohead’s OK Computer cuts, Fitter Happier. Although Radiohead’s song features a computer voice programmed used by Professor Stephen Hawking; The 1975 used a more modern and accessible technology: ‘Siri’:
“This is a spoken word track recited by Siri about a lonely man who falls in love with the internet. How much do you identify with that character?
Probably more than I’d like to. It’s just pointing out how fucking weird things are by that removal of the human experience—just hearing a robot saying “cooked animals” on this track is a bad vibe, right? Why is it a bad vibe? This is the question I’m asking. It’s the acknowledgement of an already existing dystopian reality. It sounds like a warning of what a future could be, but you realize it’s exactly what we’re living in”.
There are tales of rehab, recovery and personal pains that weaves its own narrative around an adjacent one concerning modern life, politics and touring. The 1975 tackle touring America and tackle politics; they discuss machines and there are personal scars to be found. Radiohead took a spacey angle on Subterranean Homesick Alien and a near-fatal car accident on Airbag; they were simple on Let Down but created an anthem; Electioneering related to an anonymous but desperate politician whereas No Surprises seemed to encapsulate the exhaustion and malaise of modern life in a haunting and strangely resigned song. Thom Yorke sung about a plane crash on Lucky and Paranoid Android – their multi-part epic – looked at coke-snorting, Gucci-wearing “piggies” and all sorts of f*cking chaos. The 1975 have a comparable song on their album and they tackle the same sort of topics; their compositional variety is as ambitious and realised and, against all expectations, there is a lot of Jazz influence – more fitting of Kid A than OK Computer, one feels. Mine – a standout from the album – has an intense vocal but seems to be the band’s Jazz standard...did they expect to do that?
“Me neither. It came from our love of Coltrane. I always use the magpie analogy: A magpie will collect a diamond or a piece of glass or a piece of foil—it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s shiny and attractive. It’s the same thing with us—as long as it’s beautiful. And I wanted a standard, because imagine writing a new Gershwin song, imagine a new one of those existing. That hasn’t happened since—it’s difficult to say. Was it Mariah Carey’s Christmas song? That’s probably the last one. “Hey There Delilah?” That was big. [laughs]”.
Given the fact A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships looks at the modern age with raw honesty and grace; many would not have expected relief and lightness. Like OK Computer; The 1975 bring Britpop tones (Lucky, I guess, was Radiohead’s uplifting, if bitter, track) to end the album with – I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), despite its less-than-joyous title, has a lot of pomp and anthemic quality. Matty Healy did not expect to write a Britpop-esque song when he went into the studio:
“Well, it did. But then, in the production, I was actually quite clever, because it sits in the middle. It’s not a “Bittersweet Symphony” or an Oasis song really, because it’s not as dark. But lyrically, vocally, it’s so Manchester. But then I got David [Campbell], who did the strings for “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls, to do the strings for it. I was thinking, “I have the potential for this to be cinematic. Why not do a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’?” It just made a lot of sense. As I was putting the strings on it, I was like, “Is this our big song?”
Not only does one seem some mirroring, conscious or not, regarding themes and emotional balance but, when looking at the reviews OK Computer received and how critics raved; it seems like The 1975 have achieved a lot of the same things and struck a similar tone:
“OK Computer received widespread critical acclaim. Critics in the British and American press generally agreed that the album was a landmark and would have far-reaching impact and importance, and that its experimentalism made it a challenging listen. According to Tim Footman, "Not since 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, had so many major critics agreed immediately, not only on an album's merits, but on its long-term significance, and its ability to encapsulate a particular point in history"...
In the English press, the album garnered favourable reviews in NME, Melody Maker, The Guardian, and Q.Nick Kent wrote in Mojo that "Others may end up selling more, but in 20 years time I'm betting OK Computer will be seen as the key record of 1997, the one to take rock forward instead of artfully revamping images and song-structures from an earlier era." John Harris in Select wrote: "Every word sounds achingly sincere, every note spewed from the heart, and yet it roots itself firmly in a world of steel, glass, random-access memory and prickly-skinned paranoia."
The album was well received by critics in North America. Rolling Stone, Spin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pitchfork and the Daily Herald published positive reviews. In The New Yorker, Alex Ross praised its progressiveness, and contrasted Radiohead's risk-taking with the musically conservative "dadrock" of their contemporaries Oasis. Ross wrote that "Throughout the album, contrasts of mood and style are extreme ... This band has pulled off one of the great art-pop balancing acts in the history of rock".
I guess there are a few reasons why The 1975’s latest album is being compared to OK Computer. Both seem to represent the times we are in and have that relevance. In 1997, we saw Tony Blair become Prime Minister but there was a lot of uncertainty and dread before then. Radiohead sensed the changes and need for betterment! Now, twenty-one years later, we have a precarious and fraught country where we need to see political evolution and a new order.
Similar to 1997, music was changing and Britpop, I guess, was all but done. The hubris, joy and togetherness of being British was fading and a new, American sound was creeping into a lot of bands’ work – look at Blur’s eponymous album of 1997 and how different it sounds to 1994’s Parklife! Pop and the mainstream is changing and genres like Grime are playing a bigger role. Stormzy has been booked as a Glastonbury headliner and groups like IDLES are producing the most striking and memorable albums right now. Pop still holds relevance but artists who are succeeding are writing something much more deep and interesting than the usual fare. Radiohead moved from the slightly more conventional sounds of The Bends and brought in new elements and genres into OK Computer. The 1975 has progressed their sound and, through fifteen tracks, their lyrics and sounds go in all sorts of directions! A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships can gain comparisons with Radiohead’s 1997 opus because, in many ways, the country is in the same place as it was then! Thom Yorke’s mindset and mentality during the recording of OK Computer was quite fragile and he was not in a great space. Not burdened by addiction like Matty Healy; both leads drew from personal demons and a rather uncertainty time and harnessed that in their lyrics.
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is very much 2018’s OK Computer in many ways. That classic album has a couple of less-than-genius songs and you cannot see it is faultless! The reasons it resonated back then were because of the leap Radiohead took and how the sounds/tones seemed to reflect a changing political and musical landscape. It was the clash of the past Pop and modern seriousness; the frail government being replaced and the need for something better. Maybe this wave of critical excitement and hyperbole is a reaction to the ambition of The 1975 and how they have made something staggeringly bold, varied and unusual. Whilst I maintain the God-like status being conferred on them is a little rash and premature; A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is an album that seems to speak to every single person. You have tales of addiction and heartache that will strike many; the cross-pollination and musical endeavour is thrilling and themes around the Internet and modern celebrity are fresh and of-the-moment. It is that blend of the contemporary and classical; the deeply personal and widespread-global that seems to make the record such a complete, daring and luminous beast.
The greatest test will be whether the record can sustain and influence down the line. OK Computer’s influence is clear and extraordinary:
“The release of OK Computer coincided with the decline of Britpop.[note 3] Through OK Computer's influence, the dominant UK guitar pop shifted toward an approximation of "Radiohead's paranoid but confessional, slurry but catchy" approach.Many newer British acts adopted similarly complex, atmospheric arrangements; for example, the post-Britpop band Travis worked with Godrich to create the languid pop texture of The Man Who, which became the fourth best-selling album of 1999 in the UK. Some in the British press accused Travis of appropriating Radiohead's sound. Steven Hyden of AV Clubsaid that by 1998, starting with The Man Who, "what Radiohead had created in OK Computer had already grown much bigger than the band," and that the album went on to influence "a wave of British-rock balladeers that reached its zenith in the '00s".
OK Computer's popularity influenced the next generation of British alternative rock bands,[note 4] and established musicians in a variety of genres have praised it.[note 5] Bloc Party and TV on the Radio said they were formatively influenced by OK Computer; TV on the Radio's debut album was titled OK Calculator as a lighthearted tribute. Radiohead described the pervasiveness of bands that "sound like us" as one reason to break with the style of OK Computer for their next album, Kid A.
Although OK Computer's influence on rock musicians is widely acknowledged, several critics believe that its experimental inclination was not authentically embraced on a wide scale. Footman said the "Radiohead Lite" bands that followed were "missing [OK Computer's] sonic inventiveness, not to mention the lyrical substance." David Cavanagh said that most of OK Computer's purported mainstream influence more likely stemmed from the ballads on The Bends. According to Cavanagh, "The populist albums of the post-OK Computer era—the Verve's Urban Hymns, Travis's Good Feeling, Stereophonics' Word Gets Around, Robbie Williams' Life thru a Lens—effectively closed the door that OK Computer's boffin-esque inventiveness had opened"
When we listen on Friday and have a chance for everything to sink in and play without barriers then that will give a bigger and clearer impression. I think it will take a few years to see whether A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships holds the same sort of importance and legacy as OK Computer – and whether The 1975 can impact the next generation in such a way – and whether it is ranked alongside the best albums of all-time. I do not think we can easily compare the two right away but, in terms of the immediacy and mind-blowing lyrical, compositional and production aspects; it would be quite justified comparing The 1975 with Radiohead. The latter followed that gauntlet with Kid A and Amnesiac in 2000 and took their sound in a more Electronic and Experimental direction.
The 1975 have promised us Notes on a Conditional Form next year and one wonders whether they will repeat A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships – like a two-part tale – or it will go in another direction. I cannot wait to see how their careers progress and where they head next. The band has already been confirmed as headliners for Reading and Leeds 2019 and one suspect they will duke it out with IDLES for a headline spot at Glastonbury. The five-star, hugely vacillating reviews A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships suggests we are witnessing something generation-defining and revolutionary. It will be a long time before we can legitimately and securely compare something like A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships to a heady masterpiece like OK Computer but, given the state of the world and comparisons to 1997 then who is to say?! We have been lucky enough to receive several charged, 2018-defining and political/socio-political records this year – from Chris (Christine and the Queens) and Hunter (Anna Calvi) to Joy as an Act of Resistance (IDLES) – and The 1975 end 2018 with another slice of gold! I am always uneasy comparing modern albums to the iconic examples of the past because I like to think the past is better…and modern music cannot compete! Maybe I need to rotate my dish and accept that, every now and then, records today will be able to rub shoulders against the classics. Maybe A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships will not quite earn the same respect, legacy and future-impact as OK Computer but it is clear that The 1975 are not merely very naughty boys. They might be, in a real and relevant way...