Album Review: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by the 1975

The 1975 push the boundaries of rock music with their latest release

4.2 billion people use the internet everyday; 3 billion actively use social media, 2.1 billion people use Facebook, 1 billion use Instagram, and 326 million people use Twitter.

Roughly 50 million Americans have tried a dating site, and 1 in 5 committed relationships begin online. It is clear that the current technological revolution affects the way we form relationships with those around us–– we communicate via retweets, favourites, and likes.

The 1975, the English pop rock band hailing from Manchester, attempt to tackle this era in human history on their third LP, the aptly titled A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The album marks the second of an era (the third, titled Notes On A Conditional Form, arrives next year) known as ‘Music for Cars’. On ABIIOR, the band poses the big question of what it means to be alive at this particular moment in time. Though they fail to provide an exact answer, they do provide us with an album that is consistently thought-provoking, philosophical, and incredibly fun. The 1975 take their sound to dizzying heights on their latest work, yielding what is arguably their most ambitious and focused album yet.

While 2016’s I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it strived to reach similar heights, it lacked clear direction, despite some promising moments. On ABIIOR, it appears as though lead singer Matty Healy built upon the elements that worked on previous records to create a cohesive, yet sonically diverse album. The record features a vast array of sounds–– UK garage, Soundcloud rap, 80s arena rock, smooth jazz, and Afrobeats, to name a few–– yet it doesn’t sound as scattershot as one may expect. Instead, the sonic diversity speaks to the various sounds listeners are bombarded with in today’s streaming age, where music is more accessible than ever before. It also alludes to the chaotic nature of the world we live in, a running theme throughout the album. No song captures this more perfectly than Love It If We Made It, the second single off the album. The Billy Joel-esque anthem addresses several issues that have appeared on the news over the last 2 years, from the Syrian refugee crisis to the #MeToo era to climate change. Here, Healy offers the listener a glimmer of hope amidst all the madness: “Modernity has failed us / But I’d love it if we made it,” he sings over a symphony of pulsating synths.

Elsewhere, he addresses gun control over a frenetic trap beat on I Like America and America Likes Me (“Kids don’t want rifles/They want Supreme” is just one of many genius lyrics present), and comments on the facades we put up via social media, backed with smooth drums and a saxophone on Sincerity Is Scary. The album veers from issues affecting society to ones which are more personal: the upbeat It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) and the softer, acoustic Surrounded By Heads and Bodies both detail Healy’s struggles with heroin addiction. Album closer, the late-90s sounding I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) deals with suicidal thoughts and ideation. The most ambitious track on the 15 song record is How to Draw/Petrichor, a mostly instrumental 6-minute long track that begins with soft, twinkling sounds which give way to glitchy, experimental beats. The record certainly isn’t perfect (The Man Who Married A Robot is essentially just Radiohead’s Fitter Happier but for 2018, and the attempt at tender jazz on Mine is quite forgettable), but its several highs outpeak its lowest moments by far.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is truly a record of our times. From the thematic and lyrical content to the variety of sounds, it attempts to change the definition of what a “rock” album is in 2018. Few other musicians today are as creatively daring and ambitious as the 1975, who juxtapose a variety of sounds and images to create an album that is not only sonically, but also socially relevant. As NME put it, “they’ve only gone and made the millennial answer to OK Computer…”

Zain Ahmad