The new album by The 1975 isn’t perfect. But then again, none of their albums have been. The thing that makes albums by The 1975 so iconic is that they make up for a lack of genuinely great ideas by including everything. Across their four studio albums, they have released more material than many bands manage by their eighth or ninth albums – they just write and write and write and release it all, quality control be damned.
Notes On A Conditional Form capitalises on this ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach in surprising ways. Where the black album accidentally reinvented perfect summer-emo for pubescent girls, and the pink album accidentally nailed ’80s-copping plastic pop for grownups, the white album seemed to have hit the balance just right, and their style (throw it all at them and see what they like) was pretty much perfected there and then – they diversified, matured, and took risks in front of our eyes (and ears), and they pulled it off, utterly and completely. That approach continues on NOACF.
In direct comparison to the other albums, you could argue that NOACF suffers in comparison because it just has too much to say. Last year, when Matty Healy offered to produce an album for Taylor Swift, and she didn’t take him up on the offer, he just went ahead and recorded it himself (with Phoebe Bridgers singing along) and included it on this album.
It’s easier to tackle The 1975’s albums in two halves. The first half opens Greta Thunberg talking along to ambient music that appears to be inspired by Brian Eno (The 1975). Then the band switch that chill out for rage with the fizzy, boisterous punk of People, which was released to great enthusiasm/some bewilderment a few months ago. Then the band segue into a little bit of orchestral nonsense (The End (Music for Cars)). This tendency towards self-indulgence has always given their detractors ammunition, and there’s plenty of it here. The first classic-sounding 1975 tune, Frail State Of Mind, is followed by some more orchestral nonsense, which only serves to dull the effect of track.
The first possible Taylor Swift song, The Birthday Party, is lovely and twee and heart-on-sleeve sincere. Yeah I Know takes the band into garage rock territory, before the post-grunge comedown of Then Because She Goes hits. Another likely Taylor Swift song (Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America) follows, with those vocals by Phoebe Bridgers. Roadkill is fizzy, spiky country-rawk, and Me & You Together splits the difference between Blink 182 and The Goo Goo Dolls.
The second, much better half, opens with I Think There’s Something You Should Know, before racing onto another winner, Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied, which features Cutty Ranks. Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy), Shiny Collabone and If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) are all classic-sounding The 1975 tracks. Healy’s new sad country boi persona returns with a vengeance on Having No Head, then they revert to type with What Should I Say – with Healy’s voice Auto-Tuned beyond all recognition. Bagsy Not In Net, Guys and Don’t Worry close the album out in solid – but not spectacular – fashion.
If this is their worst album, and you might believe that it is, then they very well may be the best band in the world. If quality is more important that quantity, then they must simply be the worst band in the world. It’s all about perspective, and at 80 minutes and 22 songs, you’d expect some measure of clarity to emerge from Notes On A Conditional Form. What you do get is a Taylor Swift album in the midst of five great songs, five decent tracks and 12 give-or-takes. And that, in today’s artistic climate, is tantamount to excellence.