By Jake Paterson, Co-Deputy Music Editor
In laying love before us in the form of irresistible hooks, sentimentalist lyricism and absolute excess, The 1975 drop the world-view of a neurotic individual with a frail state of mind and instead embrace the human capacity for earnest and pure feeling. At times it’s pastiche but it’s unrecognisably The 1975 in all their glory.
Separated from the postmodernity and thematic conflict that imbues their previous two records, Matty Healy on Being Funny in a Foreign Language is the most recognisable he’s ever been. With no pretence of experimentation or visionary creation to elevate the project to Healy’s lofty expectations of continuing the band as generational, the band find themselves close to complete unison in their most holistic work to date.
As the glitzy, romantic, ex-heroin-addict, Healy has forever been one of pop’s most dynamic frontmen. Obsessed with communication and desire in the modern age, his life’s work has soundtracked an audience progressing beyond coming-of-age and navigating modernity with the optimistic and skittish manner of navigating a loving relationship for the first time, despite having had many partners in the past. Every glimmer of love is at once shiny, new and ultimately transient.
Take the now almost arbitrary eponymous opening track, which in the past has ranged from Greta Thunberg biblical address to overblown vocoder layered instrumental, which now recalls LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’. The 1975 aren’t new to imitation, having used the riff off of Joy Division’s ‘Disorder’ on ‘Give Yourself a Try’, but it’s given its sheen under a new perspective of love.
Sprawling through an online landscape of addiction and political identity embedded with dick jokes (“Think I’ve got a boner / But I can’t really tell”), they come to the resolution that “It’s about ‘Time’ / This is what it looks like”, a self-aware glance into the exchange we as fans make with showing our time to this album. “This” – by which Healy means you, sat in your bedroom or on the way to class – is what the band is about. Being Platonic in admitting this love for our admiration of their art is a breath of fresh air after the vanity project that was the 22 track long Notes on a Conditional Form.
To title their associative tour ‘At Their Very Best’ only substantiates this. For once, it feels, they are performing for us. The hedonistic, Epicurean philosophies of old are no more, and we are front and centre.
That’s not to say that Being Funny doesn’t extend into pleasure and excess, it abounds in it. ‘Happiness’, one of the only tracks that holds up against the rest of the band’s discography from this project, is self-indulgent and brilliantly addictive. To have Healy in a rapture of suggesting that “I would go blind just to see you / I’d go too far just to have you near” has him at his best dancing naked on the kitchen counter screaming about desire, and at last coming close to reciprocation.
As we progress past this, we’re dropped into the run of safe territory for The 1975 – dreamy and yearning hook led indie-pop for the masses. ‘Looking for Somebody (To Love)’ and ‘Oh Caroline’ are near-perfectly constructed pop songs, but lack the soul of becoming anything more than a few weeks airtime on the radio, or anthems for first years to play at flat parties until Christmas. This could be said too of ‘I’m In Love With You’ if it wasn’t their closest success to produce a worldwide hit since ‘It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)’. As we know too well, sincerity is scary, but repeating “I’m in love with you” 25 times on one track comes pretty close to that sincerity that was once so hard to come by.
On the second half, however, this earnestness falls into a country-twinge of which is largely hit or miss. The heights of ‘All I Need to Hear’ and ‘When We Are Together’ descends into ‘Human Too’. This low is almost pathetically sentimental and difficult to progress through. It’s frustrating then, that we are left at the point of trying to distinguish emotional poignancy from careless sentimentalism falling alongside tropes of larger pop icons doing a token ballad instead of what genuine purpose we’ve already seen on ‘Be My Mistake’ and ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’.
The prosody of saying how you feel is at the heart of this record, laying bare humanity aside from the pull of noise. Its successes are moments of unwavering joy that only The 1975 are capable of, its failures on songwriting that feels too overtly pastiche. As the outro to ‘When We Are Together’ cycles back into the opening piano chords of the opening track, we ask how many times we’ll go back around with this record and with this band, now moving in a closer unity than ever before.
I for one will be having another drink and playing ‘I’m In Love With You’ again and again.
Featured Image: Samuel Bradley / Chuff Media
Have you listened to Being Funny in a Foreign Language?