Matty Healy is not concerned with palatability. The slow-rolling thunder that announced the arrival of The 1975's Notes On A Conditional Form, out May 22nd Dirty Hit, has had music fans perched intensely on their toes since its first delay. The culminating result of their "music for cars" era is a 22-track epic that has inspired a whirlwind of praise and frustration in equal measure, even prior to its official release.
Healy has been called many things: the favourites seem to be "self-indulgent" and "pseudo-intellectual," terms critics love to slap on his back as if they were Post-It Notes sneakily pinned to his hoodie in the high school hallway. But if NOACF proves anything at all, it's that Healy knows the Post-It Note is there, and perhaps he thinks it's warranted sometimes, because here he wears it like a badge of honour. This album sees Healy systematically dismantling both his ego and his art, picking it apart as if to say once and for all that this band cannot not be pigeonholed. There is more than one gem on NOACF, you just have to work to find them. From the soft-queer "Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America", a stunning understated duet with Phoebe Bridgers, to the 80's-infused 'If You're Too Shy Let Me Know', Healy has proven his genrelessness time and again.
As much as detractors will hate it, Matty Healy is far from pseudo-intellectualism. In fact, I have argued before and will argue again (probably many times) that he is one of the cleverest songwriters of his generation, capable of producing the most intricate, irresistible pop music, even if it isn't delivered in an easy-to-wrap package. He is perpetually poised for self-reflection, and NOACF situates The 1975 as rock star products of the millennial generation – rife with existential anxiety, and attempting to reconcile the chasms between technology and tangibility.
It's impossible not to compare NOACF to the across-the-board success of its predecessor, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. With "Love It If We Made It", Healy inspired veritable millions of teenagers to contemplate politics and the media, all without once delivering an opinion on either subject. "People", by contrast, is a riotous call to action, tumbling into the album with the dread-filled line: "Wake up, wake up, it's Monday morning / And there's only about a thousand of them left". But where ABIIOR succeeded, NOACF has invariably missed the mark.
The sad truth is that the album tries to whiplash so severely between genre that cohesion is relatively non-existent. There are inexplicable filler tracks like "The End Music For Cars" that, while vibrant and cinematic, serve less as connective tissue and more as muddling tools, diluting the album's triumphs. Released as singles, tracks like "The Birthday Party", "Frail State of Mind" and album closer "Guys" inspired excitement for a final chapter and displayed the kind of once-in-a-century musical genius that has become a commonplace and often apt descriptor for the The 1975. Together, they result in messy confusion.
This said, The 1975 have long surpassed the need to please anyone but themselves, and Healy seems to revel in the chaos NOACF creates. I'm sure he's having a decent laugh at all the music critics, myself included, screaming "we don't know what to do with this" through their laptops, trying to intellectualize about his life's work up to this point. As far as the end of the "music for cars" era goes, it's been shot off in so many different directions that it seems Healy may have lost control of the vehicle. Although it's difficult to shake the feeling that this is some broader commentary, and in ripping it apart, we are perhaps doing exactly what he wanted – killing the era for him.
- Notes On A Conditional Form is out tomorrow.