THE 1975 – NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM
Dirty Hit, 2020
After delays and much hype from the band themselves, The 1975 have finally delivered their fourth album and follow-up to 2018’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships that was first promised to us back in 2019. So now that we have Notes on a Conditional Form available to us, the ultimate question is if it lives up to the hype that’s been built up around it. It was delayed because Matthew Healy and the band wanted to make sure it was perfect, right? Well, let’s find out.
First off, this album is massive, with 22 tracks clocking in at 80 minutes. The 1975 are no strangers to long albums, with every one of their full-lengths running over 50 minutes, but this one pushes the CD format to its limits in the physical editions. That’s right, this is not a double album, it’s packaged, or at least presented as a single album. (I stream everything. Don’t judge me!) As much as I like to pick on pop and rock albums when they stretch past the hour mark, a long album doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad album. If an album makes you feel like the time invested hasn’t been wasted, it can be as long as it needs to be. Unfortunately, Notes… doesn’t make the best use of its time.
That being said, this album does fare better than other long albums. There are several moments on it that are actually quite good. But there’s also just a lot of stuff that just doesn’t need to be here. For example, early on in the album there are two brief, orchestral interludes. You might think that these are setting the stage for tracks like this to be interspersed throughout the entire album, but no, they’re only tracks 3 and 5 and that’s it. Another major misstep is “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied,” which starts with gospel chorus vocals, has this very strangely pitched and rapped chorus, and a terribly mixed guitar solo. The last completely weak point is “Bagsy Not in Net,” which doesn’t really feel like a fully formed song.
The rest of the weaker tracks on the album aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re not great and there’s the question of whether they fit on the album or not. An obvious pick here is “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” which features Phoebe Bridgers and sounds an awful lot like a Sufjan Steven song or even a combination of the first two Bon Iver records when the brass comes in. The Bon Iver vibes come back in a big way on “Don’t Worry,” a duet with Matty Healy’s father. The story behind the song is beautiful, but it doesn’t outweigh the similarities. And neither of these songs are awful, but they aren’t great and they just feel out of place. Similarly, the electronic tracks “Shiny Collarbone” and “Having No Head” are actually really good, but they just don’t seem to fit.
Okay, I’ve done enough complaining. It’s time to talk about the good stuff, because there’s actually some very bright spots on this album. After the intro track, “People” is an absolute banger of some noisy garage rock. It’s completely unexpected in the best way. “Me & You Together Song” sounds like some late ’90s, Third Eye Blind pop rock, but unlike the other referential tracks on the album, it’s actually an incredibly well written track that is inspired by a sound without copying it. Similarly, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is a certifiable ’80s new wave banger. All of these tracks have The 1975’s signature cheeky lyrics, throwing a little dirty subversion into the catchy and bouncy hooks. One more thing I want to highlight is how tracks “Frail State Of Mind” and “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” expertly combine The 1975’s pop rock with styles of EDM like UK garage and house.
Ultimately, Notes… is a pretty conflicting album for me. The 1975 take a lot of risks on this album. That’s evident from the first track, named after the band itself, and consisting of a 5 minute speech on climate change from Greta Thunberg. I mean, damn. The really frustrating part is that a lot of the risks pay off, or at least break even. But the “good, not great” tracks pale in comparison to the really great ones, and then there’s the issue of the completely unnecessary ones. This isn’t a bad album, but I can’t help but feel like there’s a really great one in it somewhere if the band had been a little more focused on quality over quantity.