ALBUM REVIEW: The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

We either listen to the new The 1975 album, or we don’t. Unlike Greta Thunberg’s message in the eponymous opening track, there are no consequences to our selfish or selfless minds if we do, or don’t, listen to the 1975’s fourth album.

Photo Credit: Mara Palena

The 1975’s pre-NOACF-release reputation became damaged with the optimistic and unsatisfied challenge of releasing two new full-length albums before the turn of the decade. Announcing this in 2018, it has taken almost two years to release the ‘era-ending’ album. Two delays after an initial release date set in February 2020, The 1975’s new album Notes On A Conditional Form has finally been released under Dirty Hit, and there is very little new music to get excited about.

The beginning of stage two of the ‘Music For Cars’ era captivated the dedicated fan-base and listeners beyond, with The 1975 using their platform to be more political than ever before. Notes On A Conditional Form opens with a track that takes a slightly different turn from the sexual-focused lyrics that open all three previous albums. It appears The 1975 have turned over onto a sophisticated, uber-political, new leaf – releasing an environmental-political message as the debut track for the final album was a bold move by the Mancunians, but if any band were going to break the rules on what a single should sound like, it would be The 1975. 

The 1975’s former opening tracks were always statements on their current sound at the release of each album. However, with the title track instating a bold, political message, the focus of their fourth album appears to focus less so on musical coherence than former albums, rather, relationships; platonic, romantic, environmentalist or political, are the only coherent topics of this album. The title track almost sets NOACF up for musical failure. 

The further release of singles contradicts this though, setting The 1975’s musical-expectations as high as ever. The anger in People, disconnection in Frail State of Mind and optimism in Me & You Together Song establish The 1975’s staple sound as prominent as ever. The release of these tracks encapsulates what The 1975 are about; political activism, awareness of individualism and idealistic romances in relatable settings to, and for, their fanbase. Up to this point, The 1975 were doing well with NOACF.

Expectations begin to run slow with the latter half of singles. The Birthday Party, Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America and Guys show sonic failure in The 1975’s sound. Distancing from the ‘Music For Cars’ label that they have been plugging since their headline slot at Latitude 2017, mellow drums and inconsistent production may be accountable to the vast amount of studios used to record the 22-tracker. George Daniel has always taken pride on The 1975’s self-produced albums, but the over-compression, particularly of low-end instrumentals, do not quite match The 1975’s previous standards, especially with the electronica-infused album of A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.

Some tracks on the album do follow the trend of be instantly recognisable as a The 1975 hit though; Tonight, If You’re Too Shy, Then Because She Goes and Roadkill have the classic, self-titled sound that appears to be the leading policy in the ‘Music For Cars’ manifesto. But the cycling of genre-alternating tracks, political to punk, to pop, to piano, to pretentious demonstrate what The 1975 are capable of when coherence is not at the forefront of creating an album, resulting in pieces of art rather than a piece of art.

The point about coherence is further justified by Matty’s lo-fi obsession; creeping in from I Like It When You Sleep… and now anchoring its precedence in NOACF; a composition of recycled beats and overused samples from the tried-and-tested hits of The 1975’s The 1975 years. There is no originality, there is no ‘The 1975’ in The 1975 anymore. Yeah I Know, I Think There’s Something You Should Know and Having No Head appear to just fill up space on the album. Although Matty comments on the album being about The 1975 in the present moment, it naturally results in The 1975’s “most aggressive moments and [their] most tranquil moments”. Despite the incoherence, there is an organicism to the (final) product of The 1975.

The product of NOACF seems to be an unbalanced collection of nostalgia and musical progression. Going back and forth between past and present is confusing and is greatly juxtaposing to the ‘Music For Cars’ era that is the central point of this, and the last album. The End, Nothing Revealed and Don’t Worry are united in their tone of sound scaping the intimacy of relationships that has become the forefront of this ‘album’. The symbolism of using orchestral instrumentation does, indeed, allow an element of ‘Music For Cars’ in this sequence. Although sonically unrelated to The 1975’s former name and sound, the past and Music For Cars has become a large part of the present day for The 1975. This twinned with the musical progression of The 1975’s reviewed electronica genre outweighs the meaning of nostalgia and the former MFC era.

This album is disjunct (with exception to the earlier singles) – it is unrecognisable as The 1975. Releasing an album with 22 songs was unbelievably ignorant when no pre-recording or writing was being completed in advance, causing multiple delays to a significantly underwhelming album. Dubbing the ‘Music for Cars’ era, The 1975 have, on face-value, failed to conclude their almost exceptional seven-plus years of headlining festivals and arenas, as well as winning and being nominated for best band and best album multiple times. Arguably, the latest release destroys The 1975’s standard, finishing ‘The 1975-era’ on an album made of singles released almost a year in advance of the final product, and then the final product not being The 1975, nor Drive Like I Do. With the conclusion of an incoherent set of recycled beats, progressions and samples, it appears The 1975 were too optimistic in their attempts to make another masterpiece.

Listen to Notes On A Conditional Form here.

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