1975 in British music was dominated by two acts: the unabashedly cheesy teen-pop of Bay City Rollers and the skilful blend of rock and r&b produced by Rod Stewart back before he became consumed in a hell of standards cover albums. If the former are regarded as something of a joke nowadays, the genre cross-pollination which was typical of Stewart at the time has become such a dominant staple of mainstream music that it’s a brave band who would dare criticise a modern descendent of Bay City Rollers – the indulgence offered to One Direction being an obvious example.
The 1975 owe little to the music of that year yet this mingling of genres and ostentatious love of pop is integral to them. They may have taken their name from an inscription on a book of beat poetry and look like they’ve stepped straight out of Hoxton but they’re more likely to be found name-dropping Michael Jackson, Talking Heads and Prince as influences than The Smiths and Joy Division. Indeed, their shtick is so in-tune with the zeitgeist that you could almost suspect they were some ingenious Machiavellian record company construct if they hadn’t been kicking around under various names for the past decade. There can be no doubting, however, that their rise since they settled on this band name has been swift; packing in three Top 40 singles and support slots for Muse and the Rolling Stones within a year of your first release is nothing to be sniffed at.
This eponymous debut album, then, comes with advance word from the tastemakers in the industry that it’s ‘much anticipated’. The promotional push behind them and the presence of producer Mike Crossey, who has worked with Jake Bugg, Arctic Monkeys, Keane and Foals, underline that big things are expected of The 1975. For their part, the band haven’t seemed fazed by the pressure and have talked up the debut as one where ‘every track could be a potential single’. Fighting talk, certainly but the heartening news is that it’s largely justified.
After a briefly shimmering, heavily auto-tuned intro the album kicks into life with previous single The City. It’s swaggering, widescreen pop which speaks of youth and possibility, being built around the line “if you wanna find love then you know where the city is.” Vocalist Matthew Healy (rather incongruously the son of actors Denise Welch and Tim Healy) has spoken of how they approached the album as the soundtrack to an imaginary John Hughes film of their lives and that coming of age blend of confidence and neuroses is perfectly captured here. Chocolate, the band’s biggest hit to date, sounds like an ’80s anthem blasting out of an open-topped car as it soars down the freeway – yet behind its ebullience lies a tale about about kids who have “guns hidden under our petticoats”. Heart Out recalls Noah And The Whale’s recent ’80s MOR revivals complete with a middle-eight sax break. It’s carried on stabbing, infectious synth and its balance of potentially banal inspirational lyrics like “why don’t you speak it out loud, instead of living in your head?” with darker observations such as “your obsession with rocks and brown and fucking the whole town is a reflection on your mental health” is typical of the album’s duality.
The band’s lyrics recall the quotidian melodramas of Arctic Monkeys, with M.O.N.E.Y. describing a violent night out and current single Sex concerning an abortive sexual encounter with a girl who has a boyfriend. Their taut funk-infused rock frequently brings to mind ’80s acts like Toto and Curiosity Killed The Cat while Healy’s idiosyncratic vocals and the band’s adventurous spirit suggest a turbocharged take on The Futureheads or Field Music. This daring is perhaps best displayed on the irresistible Prince-like disco of Girls, a song which is one prominent television spot away from chart domination (and one which will have the line “I know you’re looking for salvation in the secular age, but girl I’m not your saviour” blasting out in indie clubs around the country).
If there’s a complaint it’s that the band can clearly knock these compelling radio anthems out with ease and so we have lesser variations on the theme like She Way Out and Pressure which could easily have been cut. The stately ballad Robbers (if this was a John Hughes movie this would be the slow dance scene) and the stark, desolate honesty of closer Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You (which seems to be about Healy’s guilt concerning his parents’ divorce) show that they have nothing to fear from stepping outside of their comfort zone.
It seems the stars have aligned for The 1975, but this impressive and authoritative debut destroys all trace of cynicism that they’re almost too perfect a package. There is undeniable passion and love infused throughout these songs and, if they tick all the right boxes, they do it magnificently. We could certainly do with these intelligent, joyful and often moving anthems supplanting the identikit pop which so dominates the current charts.