Two years after the release of I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, The 1975 are back. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships might have a shorter title but fear not, this album is still as pretentious as the last (and we absolutely love it).
The third album is a defining moment for any artist. Far enough into their career that they should know who they are and possess the freedom to control how they express themselves to a built-up fanbase, their place in the music industry remains nonetheless, as it always will, insecure. Artists need to prove that they still have something interesting to say and something new to offer. For many artists the third album has the potential to become their most iconic. Just think of The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths. Whilst A Brief Inquiry certainly proves that The 1975 know who they are and that they have plenty to say, it is not their best (we’ll reserve that title for I Like It When You Sleep at the moment) and there is the feeling, due to the band’s experimentalist status, that something even more iconic is to come.
Yet A Brief Inquiry still evidences drastic strides forward taken by the band. The highly synthesised sound of this album can only have been inspired by Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, which made use of a prismizer effect in order to both multiply vocals by splitting the voice into harmonies and obscure emotion by hiding vocals behind autotune. Use of a messina, a synthesiser that produces prismizer in real time, produces a choral effect so that it sounds as if there is more than one Healy. This mirrors one of the major themes of the album: that we can create multiple identities for ourselves online and (perhaps) obscure the original. Or, more positively, perhaps the choral effect is supposed to make it seem as if the singer is not alone. Again, this could be a comment on social networking: apps such as Facebook connect us to the world and others even when we are sitting alone in our rooms.
These differing ideas about online relationships are at the heart of the album, which makes no attempt at a conclusion. This is an inquiry, not a judgement. It is a celebration of humanity, as we can see from the band’s experimentation with the human voice in editing. In some ways heavily synthesised sound makes the voice sound less human and more machine. In fact, nowhere is this more obvious than in the most experimental track, ‘The Man Who Married A Robot/Love Theme’, in which the SIRI voice is used to narrate the story of a man who falls in love with the internet. This might not exactly be a track you can bop to but it sure is clever; it explores the loss of individuality that one can experience when projecting themselves through a machine. However, the story narrated is not necessarily one that damns the internet. Additionally, synthesisers used throughout the album are not just used to remove individuality. In fact, they allow the band to revel in the possibilities of the human voice as it becomes an instrument with new modes of expression. Once again, The 1975 dabble in ambiguity.
Whilst most of the best songs (‘Give Yourself a Try’, ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’) were released in advance as singles, the release of the album saw the introduction of some more gently beautiful tunes. ‘Inside Your Mind’, for example, is a tender exposition of the band’s lyrical experimentalism; a longing to ‘crack’ open and conquer the one thing that cannot be exposed on social media. We then see the highs and lows of relationships in ‘Mine’ and ‘I Couldn’t Be More in Love’ before returning to an introspective point of view in ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’. This last song on the album brings us back to an inquisitive look at identity. What we end up with is ‘a face collapsed through entropy’: an image that is unable to become mechanical due to its disorder and lack of predictability. This is perhaps the way to maintain individualism, then, and The 1975 have proved with this album that they remain unpredictable.
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is available now via Dirty Hit and Polydor Records.