A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is a Beautiful Sounding, Lyrically Snobbish Oddity: A Review
By: Alex Hopkins
Regardless of whether or not the band themselves know this fact as much as we as an audience or critics do, there is no denying that The 1975 are pretentious.
Since the days the quartet was making hit EPs in their home location of Cheshire and garnering fame through equally-famous music videos, the band has been cursed with their pompousness. This fact, however, has not always been in such an extreme way - their 2013 self-titled effort was a lot more subtle, and only focused on a kind of self-vapidity that was contradictorily engaging to the audience. They could be condescending and unaware of their own faults, yet could charm you into the overall groove set by that record. A realization like this, that The 1975 or more so Matty Healy are ostentatious without the self-awareness to make it all that enjoyable, only started to appear once 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep... was released. An album that was defined by extensive interludes lasting for four-to-six minutes and with far less nuanced than what they provided three years prior, yet still deserving of praise.
It truly is a strange thing to what the quartet have completed for these past few albums. In a world where another band with similar traits as well as their major problems would have plummeted to the bottom of the barrel for critics and would have only been popular for the online crowd, The 1975 have achieved the complete opposite of this and then some. And while it is understandable how one may think of this only as a fluke, their latest A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships seems to have proven otherwise in the grand scheme of things to some (Metacritic has this as the band’s highest rated album, standing tall at 86). Though some, especially myself, may not agree with all of it.
Because while yes, their third studio album and the first in a two-part series of releases (next Spring will see the release of the second edition, Notes on A Conditional Form) is still a sonically spectacular album, it is also this era where I would argue you can see the cracks start to show in their methods. A Brief Inquiry is the product of a good amount of experimentation and more so than usual, playing with pseudo-House beats (“TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”), electronic post-punk in “Give Yourself a Try”, and, surprisingly enough, a modernization of classic jazz tunes (especially “Mine”, which gives out more feelings of being in a French cafe in 1967 than one would expect out of a 1975 album). There is some familiarity too, switching from Bande à part vibes back to the 80’s sound seen in their prior album (“It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You”, “Love It If We Made It”) and though the interludes are back, with the annoyingly cynical exception of “The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme”, they are helpfully less of a chore to get through than those on ILIWYS. A Brief Inquiry feels like a conglomerate of everything the band has done before and could potentially seek out for the future, all with the production of pop-studded sheen, that feels as engaging and surprisingly groove-driven as their last few albums.
What truly earns them the title of overtly-ostentatious yet again, if not even worse this time around, is the lyrical matter. Some songs are easy to get behind in terms of their lyrical context. “Give Yourself a Try” tends to focus more on the little aspects of their tenure as a band that has shaped the members, while songs like “Be My Mistake and “Mine” feel genuinely heartwarming while speaking on relationships: an album closer like “I Always Wanna Die Sometimes” is a sure-to-be classic with it’s simplistic, yet impactful talk on life in this modern age. It’s only when subjects of modernity come up that this album truly becomes hit or miss.
Sure, songs like “Love It If We Made It” have similar pretentions about the state of our culture today; yet, the reason why a song such as that works is that of how engaging it is. Tracks like “I Like America and America Likes Me” sound beautiful, yet feel like a less-intriguing list of things to hate about SoundCloud rappers, even if it’s understandable.
You also have others such as “Sincerity is Scary” or “TMWMAW” — songs that feel genuinely frustrating with how high-hatted these lyrics are (“I’m sure that you’re just not another girl/I’m sure that you’re gonna say that I was sexist” is groaner if I have ever heard one). They may be considerably smaller exceptions when compared to the overall quality of the album, but in the grander scheme of the character this band have established for themselves, you can not help but hear lyrics like those and not wonder what other sets of lyrics will call cell phones evil or Thomas Edison a witch.
No one is saying that technology or social media does not have its faults, just as much as I can not say that I don’t enjoy this album overall. A Brief Inquiry has its merits, though most of that is thanked by great leaps made by their varied musical choices, and exceptional songwriting. Sometimes, however, it can be other kinds of anomalies themselves that lessen your listening experience, whether it comes from music, production, or in this case, songwriting. It does still prove what I believe we always knew, though - The 1975 are still the same as ever, whether that’s good or bad.