A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships Tracklist:
Give Yourself a Try
How to Draw / Petrichor
Love It If We Made It
Be My Mistake
Sincerity Is Scary
I Like America & America Likes Me
The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme
Inside Your Mind
It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You)
Surrounded by Heads and Bodies
I Couldn’t Be More in Love
I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)
Reviewed by Sam Sciacca
The 1975’s A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships has the capability to, should you let it, make you feel angry, despondent, awestruck, hopeful and joyous all in under an hour. It’s a picture-perfect depiction, a mammoth snapshot of what it’s like to be young and living in 2018.
A year ago, 29-year-old The 1975 frontman Matty Healy made the intent clear that the band wanted their third album to be what The Queen Is Dead was to The Smiths, and what OK Computer was to Radiohead; the masterpiece album that solidifies them in the annals of music discussion. To achieve this would seemingly be farfetched, laughable even, and to let those intentions known a year in advance in the streaming era, the same era that boasts the availability of every song one can think of at a few mere taps of a screen, is even more bombastic of a claim to make. But one of the things that shroud The 1975 in controversy is just that; that they are very aware of it and they embrace it.
Matty Healy is in a peculiar position of knowing that he’s a rock star frontman, acting like a rock star frontman, but being honest in the limelight regarding his mental illnesses, his heroin addiction and the trials and tribulations of simply being a human being in the position that he’s in in this day and age. While at times the grooviness of his stage presence has been likened to the late Michael Hutchence of INXS, his public demeanor has been one of vulnerability and honesty in a time where he believes that young people need to hear it the most from those in the position he’s in. And within the juxtaposition of embodying a rock star while still being a vulnerable, unmasked and fully self-expressed human being both in and out of the spotlight, themes of vulnerability and unabashed honesty, minus any form of facade or rock star tinted sunglasses, are prevalent all throughout the albums he and the rest of the band create.
There have been brutally vulnerable songs on both previous albums, 2013’s self-titled and 2015’s shamelessly titled ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ that deal with, more prominently than not, Matty’s mental health issues and extreme heroin addiction that controlled-past tense-his life for so many years. And somehow, with A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships (the first of two new albums to be released in the span of 6 months) the vulnerability strikes deeper and hits harder, veering into completely new territory while also recognising and elaborating on themes of the past, such as looking at addiction to heroin, this time through a clean lens. To find the new territory, you’d need to look no further than Be My Mistake, a subdued song that highlights Matty’s painful, reflective and untouched vocals over nothing more than acoustic guitar and drizzle-like Sigur Ros-esque drops of ambient piano. Lyrically, it deals with infidelity as a result of loneliness on tour, the picture painted perfectly from someone comparing relations for a night with a relationship for a potential lifetime. “You do make me hard, but she makes me weak. Don’t wait outside my hotel room, just wait til I give you a sign, cuz I get lonesome sometimes. Save all the jokes you’re gonna make while you see how much drink I can take, then be my mistake.”
This album, in large spurts, also perfectly captures what it can feel like living in the Information Age. However, In lieu of blame or judgments being passed, questions are instead asked and statements largely void of opinions are made, giving the listener the opportunity to decipher for their own meaning instead of being propositioned by the band themselves. Examples can be found primarily on Love It If We Made It, the state-of-the-current-world song that’s already quickly positioning itself as the generation’s answer to We Didn’t Start The Fire. Upon first, and subsequent listens, this song will shock you with lyrics that seem absolutely overblown and preposterous, yet are simply based on the reality of today. At one point, Matty directly quotes the leader of the free world in “I moved on her like a bitch” before stating that “the war has been incited and guess what? You’re all invited, and you’re famous. Modernity has failed us”. Among talk of “a beach of drowning three year olds” and the “poetry” being “in the streets”, referencing the circulating picture of Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach and the opioid-induced death of the late 21year-old rapper Lil Peep respectively, it’s clear that the aim of the track is to have us not only understand the gravity of what’s happening right now in the world, but also just how desensitised we’ve become to hearing about it so often, to the point of us being forced to just move on to the next thing going on. Regarding the lyric referencing Alan Kurdi, Matty stated that “it obviously caused mass outcry of compassion… It’s also a shame that it took that picture to do so.” As with many social anthems, there’s a strong undertone of hope looking to be found in the music and the lyrics, a theme that runs through the album, should you again, let it.
Dealing with 2018 means addressing the relationship we have with the technology that in a few short decades has become as real as the life we stand, walk, eat and work in. Again though, the judgement is left for us to make. Matty doesn’t necessarily spoon-feed his opinions on us regarding the internet and how we use it, instead simply acknowledging it exists and honing in on what we could be making that existence mean as a society; why we use it, how we use it and what using it does to us. The most obvious example of this on the album comes in the form of The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme, in which the voice of Siri narrates the story of @SnowflakeSmasher86, who fell in love with his best friend (the internet). They shared a life together and it’s made clear that his best friend would do anything with him, including getting him “cooked animals” and showing him “people having sex again”. An interesting twist in the narration widened my eyes. “And then he died… You can go on his Facebook”, the line being a perfect summation that sometimes even in death, we’re still advertising our lives.
After the orchestral ebb and flow of the latter half of The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme, a loud piano startles us, wakes us up and has us pay attention… and it’s intended to. Inside Your Mind is jarring and self-doubtful. It’s curious and heartbroken. It’s haunting and gorgeous, and it’s perfectly layered. “The back of your head is at the front of my mind. Soon I’ll crack it open just to see what’s inside your mind…Maybe I will wait until you’re fast asleep, dreaming things I have the right to see.” One of the most powerful lyrics of the record comes midway through this track, providing such a simple reality of how modern technology has impacted what we can see when it comes to, and how we then deal with, the breakdown of relationships; “I can show you the photographs of you getting on with life.” It’s so simple, but he’s right. They’re right there on our own screen if we want to see them, and it seems so normal that they would be and so normal that we’d want to.
The need as a millennial to feel better than we are just to keep up with other people doing a better job at trying to do the same thing is highlighted everywhere in the record. Using social media to generally screen a legitimate reflection of our best selves and most prosperous reality is tough to grasp if you use social media for its intended purpose, which is not the aforementioned one. TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME captures this in a bottle, the most striking line being “She said that I should have ‘liked’ it. I told her I only use it sometimes, except when I need reminding I’m petrified.” This line alone does an exceptional job at highlighting how both people’s self-esteem shows up in the ‘low-key’ competitive world of social media. I wouldn’t call that an overly bad thing though. After all, as A Brief Enquiry… at times pinpoints, it’s merely just the society we are, based on the world we’re a part of in 2018.
Following similar themes, Give Yourself A Try deals with the complex nature of the overthinking, self-deprecating millennial culture based on themes as mentioned above. Verses that feature lines such as “I was 25 and afraid to go outside, a millennial that baby boomers like” and “When your vinyl and your coffee collection is a sign of times, you’re getting spiritually enlightened at 29” are split in threes to leave room for a hopeful chorus for people feeling misunderstood in a world seemingly full of judgements from others and themselves – “Won’t you give yourself a try?”
While the anti-heroin song It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You provides a glimpse of what it’s like looking in from the outside, with a chorus of “All I do is sit and think about you, if I knew what you’d do, distract my brain from the terrible news, it’s not living if it’s not with you”, the anthem of a closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) finishes the listening experience with an anti-suicide exclamation in “I always wanna die, sometimes…But your death, it won’t happen to you, it happens to your family and friends”.
An album about the current state of the world may sound absurd coming from a band of mid 20 to early 30somethings, but that’s exactly what growing up as a millennial has often been; absurd. We’re a generation that was raised with a halcyon day view of the 1990’s. The Cold War was finished, we hadn’t yet marked the 11th September 2001 in our calendars and technological advances hadn’t come far enough for things like cyber bullying to be too prevalent. To us, history seemed to be progressing into an anything-can-happen future, and then the rapid rise of personal technology happened, where xenophobia and an anything-goes attitude behind a keyboard took the rank as normal. Through it all, we are 10 to 20 years into our shiny new digital lives and we still have no real understanding of its psychological impact, while the ability to numb ourselves by endlessly scrolling through an uncaring twitter feed featuring all the aforementioned xenophobic views of people, places and politics remains. That, amidst the rubble of trying to keep up with our peers and look as good as we can (because that’s somehow what we’ve conditioned ourselves, or been conditioned, to become) has become normal, to the point of some people looking in the mirror and not being in love with or even appreciating what they see because there isn’t a filter on it. It should be noted then, that of course a record attempting to truly, wholly and authentically deal primarily with life in 2018 as a young person is going to be more complex that your standard 12 pop songs.
Because of that, this record never feels like it’s going in a specific direction. It’s directionless and scattered, jumping from glossy pop to slow jazz to glitchy electronica to indie rock with almost everything you can think of thrown in between. It’s a record made by and for those raised on having absolutely everything readily available all at once, and the result is just that – absolutely everything all at once. 2015’s I like it when you sleep… was an amalgamation of styles and genres too, but A Brief Enquiry… is much more of that, and much more powerful as a result based on what the album deals with. The differing subject matter of individual songs are catered perfectly to whatever genre The 1975 deem necessary to maximise the lyrical subject of any given song, and because so many themes are explored, so many different genres are used to explore them. As a 50-minute expression of art, it’s poignant but hopeful where OK Computer wasn’t and it’s musically higher and lower than The Queen Is Dead could have been (obviously with all due respects to both). So, kudos to The 1975, because that’s exactly how it feels to be living in 2018.
As an exploration of our times, it might not seem like much to those living within it, thus I have a feeling that this album’s importance and brilliance won’t truly be recognised until hindsight appears.
With this record, The 1975 shamelessly intended to make their definite statement by giving people something to talk about for a very long time. Well, I believe they’ve done it, and all it took for them to do it was to be socially aware without pushing opinion, and most importantly, being 100% vulnerable in a society that’s focused on looking good in a world littered with judgments, distractions, and controversies that we just can’t seem to escape, no matter how hard we try.