For a band who have built their career on making bizarre and unpredictable moves, it seems the only truly unpredictable move left for The 1975 is to create an album that feels decidedly tame. Although it retains their famous blend of colourful ‘80s production and cutting 21st-century commentary, their new record, ‘Being Funny in a Foreign Language’, is a notable divergence from previous work. It is especially distinct from their last project, ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’, which forayed into every musical genre from garage to country. In stark contrast, this album feels boldly and delightfully uncomplicated.
The self-titled opener – a feature of each one of the band’s LPs – takes a heavy dose of inspiration from LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends,’ with a frenetic piano melody that spins itself in circles. Lyrically, Healy is caught up in the excavation of his past, wincing at a previous penchant for “making an aesthetic out of not doing well / While mining all the bits of you you think you can sell.” There is tension throughout the record between urgent, sardonic self-analysis and the desire simply to let go. Perhaps this is why so many of its songs succeed in capturing the feeling of spontaneous jam sessions and raw studio recordings as these are the times when artists can truly get lost in the music, shaking off any expectations from their listeners or themselves.
Yet The 1975 are still following the pattern they have drawn, displaying spunky production that melds jazz with twinkly pop nostalgia. ‘Happiness,’ an early single, is built on these influences, echoing a number of the band’s most staggering earlier tracks including ‘If You’re Too Shy (Just Let Me Know)’. ‘Looking For Somebody (To Love)’ and ‘Oh Caroline’ are similarly exuberant, though the latter supplies little in the way of poignant lyrics, committing instead to sunny, bouncing pop, while the former suggests such sunniness while simultaneously exploring the heavy subject of male violence. These tracks also share a folksy feel pointing to the influence of producer Jack Antonoff, who joined forces with BJ Burton and The 1975’s drummer and regular producer George Daniel. Although not every song commits to the poignant postmodern philosophising for which Healy is most loved, each shimmers with such sonic splendour that this is easy to forgive.
The record is, after all, in no way devoid of Healy’s lyrical talents. ‘Part of the Band,’ the first single, sees him deride “vaccinista tote bag chic baristas” before directing this scorn towards himself as he ponders, “Am I ironically woke? / The butt of my joke?” With writing so laden with idiosyncrasies, ‘Wintering’ becomes opaque and almost meaningless. “Bumped into Judy in the Co-Op,” Healy recalls. “She asked how the family’s been / I said Alex is a sculptor and Olivia’s been a vegan since ten.” Though he may be playing it safe, Healy is still clearly pushing the boundary between eccentricity and pretentiousness.
‘Being Funny in a Foreign Language’ rounds off with several gorgeous offerings. The gentle lo-fi jazz of ‘Human Too’ encompasses another exploration of past mistakes, while ‘About You’ is drenched in trembling synths and decadent string melodies. Though it is remarkably different, this record doesn’t feel like a step in the wrong direction; it is instead a lateral move which only reinforces the breadth of its creators’ talent. Strip it all away, and they still shine.
The 1975’s fifth album ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ is out now.