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‘Notes on a Conditional Form’, the fourth album from The 1975 has gone through a chaotic gestation period. Initially being promised as a quick-fire follow-up to 2018’s Brit Award-winning ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, it has instead taken slightly longer to appear. Largely recorded on a seemingly never-ending tour, it is a sprawling twenty-two song epic, clocking at eighty minutes in length and recorded in no fewer than fifteen studios in four countries.
The band produce music that is very much reactive to modern culture and frontman Matty Healy’s observational lyricisms polarise as much as his own persona. The result is a cluster of ideas and styles, which vary in listenability. Take the singles which have preceded the release - the first taste was a Greta Thunberg speech over a minimalist instrumental, the screamo-inspired thrash of ‘People’ (left-field even by the standards of an act who thrive upon such a reputation) followed. Fans have since been treated to stripped-back ballads on homosexuality (the excellent ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’, featuring a wonderful turn from Phoebe Bridgers), Tears For Fears-borrowing eighties pop (‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’), banjo-dripped stoner melancholy (‘The Birthday Party’) and most recently a sappy ode to friendship (‘Guys’).
‘Notes...’ on a whole largely follows a similar lack of pattern, mainly led by frontman Healy’s restless schizophrenia. He will contradict himself between interviews, but exudes self-awareness in his lyrics, often overwhelmingly so. Knowing his fans hang onto his every word, there are more than a few not-so-subtle knowing winks. He shrugs off the criticism of his silence during the UK general election, singing “I took shit for being quiet during the election, maybe that’s fair, but I’m a busy guy” on the introspective ‘Roadkill’, tackles his self-loathing on Bagsy Not In Net (“I’m reeling, I know that I’m appalling”) but reflects his more tender musings on the shoegaze-fuelled ‘Then Because She Goes’ (“Beautiful, please dont cry, I love you”) and on the ‘Guys’, he dives head-first into the seldom-referenced topic of male friendships, earnestly repeating “you guys are the best thing that ever happened to me” to close out the record.
The chaotic genre-bending often threatens to derail proceedings straight from the off. The two fiddling instrumentals which sandwich ‘Frail State of Mind’ ruin any momentum, particularly at such an early stage. Later on, the Cutty Ranks-led dancehall electronics of ‘Shiny Collarbone’ is needless and screams for the listener to notice their diversity, ‘Tonight (I I Wish I Was Your Boy’) is instantly forgettable, while the vocoder-ravaged vocals on ‘What Should I Say’ are a mess.
There are enough moments though, where the record reaches the heights of classic 1975, such as the wonderful ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’ and long-time fans will be thankful for ‘Me & You Together Song’ which would fit right on their debut. The aforementioned ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ is the piece-de-resistance, though. Production and instrumentation are stripped back to bare minimum as Healy and Phoebe Bridgers share frank lyrics referring to the confusion of emotions coming from homosexual thoughts, as they sing “I’m in love with a boy I know, but that’s a feeling I can never show”. Bridgers’ gorgeous vocal adds an angelic quality and her inclusion onto the track is a masterstroke, particularly given her status as a thoroughly modern singer-songwriter in her own right.
There is a distinct lack of quality control, which prevents ‘Notes...’ from being considered anything near a modern classic. The band’s constant desire to push themselves is admirable, and the record feeds into restless modern listening habits which have ultimately rendered genres null and void. Despite this, there is an overriding feeling of self-indulgence which permeates throughout, with a number of tracks which slip through undigested. A more concise record could have been something special.
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