Controversially described by some as the modern youth’s OK, Computer, debuting at number one on the UK Official Albums Chart, and with a four star review from The Edge, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, or ABIIOR, has met with critical and popular acclaim – although it is not without its unbelievers.
For me, the third album from the Mancunian four-piece does what it says on its minimalistic tin, as it moves through explorations of self-love and suicidal ideation, the fear of romantic sincerity and the dangers of a lack of it, and drug addiction and rehab, all firmly within a modern context of politics and the internet. Matty Healy, the frontman of the band, has recently described himself as primarily a creator of albums, and the album’s strength indeed lies in its awareness of itself as an album, the thought that has been put into the tracklist, and the quasi-narrative that emerges.
ABIIOR begins with ‘The 1975’, the song that has, in various forms, opened each of the band’s albums. In each rendition, the same lyrics are set to a different arrangement – in this case, muted piano chords that burst into the heavily synthesised, metallically blurred, vocals of Healy, and this sets the tone for the album as a whole. While some listeners (justifiably) complain that it is not the easiest listen – like much of the album – the metallic sharpness and juddering stop-start vocals screeching through your earphones, this is, after all, an exploration of online relationships, and the internet can be a screechy place.
As the album continues, the tracks begin to appear almost in groups, linked by an overarching theme. ‘Be My Mistake’, a soft, almost confessional, love song, backed by raindrops and an acoustic guitar, makes space for the following ‘Sincerity is Scary’ to explore, with jazzy brass and syncopated drums, the difficulty of such things in a time of post-modernism and drugs. ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, the eleventh track, begins the conversation of Healy’s drug addiction, with a distinctly ’80s-inspired vibe, which is continued by ‘Surrounded by Heads and Bodies’ in much softer terms, as Healy sings of Angela, a woman he attended rehab with in Barcelona. Then ‘Mine’, with more jazz-inspired piano and Roy Hargrove’s last trumpet solo, explores his current relationship and his commitment issues, followed by ‘I Couldn’t Be More In Love’ – on the surface another love song, but the band have revealed that the track is actually about the fear of losing their fanbase, and what would happen to “all the feelings” they communicate through their music when there is no one listening to them.
This interplay between the tracks makes the album something of a short story collection, especially as the album’s “Inquiry” is centralised in the album’s ninth track, ‘The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme’, a love story between a bigoted man and the internet, narrated by Siri. This is then paired with the following track, ‘Inside Your Mind’, (with a chorus melody that seems like a direct plagiarism of The Phantom of the Opera) which vents frustration at being unable to reach the level of complete intimacy that SnowflakeSmasher86 believes he has reached with the internet – “‘I feel like I could tell you anything,’ he said.”
ABIIOR switches between the synthesised “rhymes” Healy “hides behind”, such as in ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’, and the confessional acoustic tracks such as ‘Mine’ or ‘Inside Your Mind’. With references to grey hairs in zoots and joyously stating the obvious, (as, after Healy sings that Danny “works in a petrol station”, he chimes in from the back to assert that this means he’s “selling petrol”), The 1975 explore modern life with humour, openness, and not a little pretentiousness – which at the very least is fun to roll your eyes at.
ABIIOR is also the beginning of the “Music For Cars” era of The 1975, which will be completed with the release of the band’s next album, Notes on a Conditional Form, next year.
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships was released on 30th November via Dirty Hit.