Notes on a Conditional Form
2020 – Rock / Alternative
Dirty Hits / Interscope
The British band’s fourth album is the band’s biggest, longest and most immersive album to date. With deep sounds and sharp lyrics, they built an unexpected adventure.
Matthew Healy was just a boy when he met Ross MacDonald, Adam Hann and George Daniel. They studied at a school in Wilmslow near Manchester and decided to form the band when the local council organized a series of shows for teenagers. From there, they started singing covers and then, punk songs written by themselves. Although the band has changed its name numerous times (once it was Talkhouse and once Blind Tapes), it was always unmistakable. Its sound and lyrics were unique. Their first album, self-titled, featured teenagers who talked about sex and the city with ownership, the second one, I Like It When You Sleep…, bet on trying new sounds without leaving its essence behind. Finally, their third album, A brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, and also, their most ambitious until that time, showed social criticisms and broken relationships in the virtual world. As much as it is not his best, Notes On A Conditional Form, the new album by the British band, is an extremely different project from its predecessors for taking the listener on an immersive adventure never worked before by the band.
Notes on a Conditional Form is their most ambitious album to date. Being their longest album, with 80 minutes of duration, Notes presents the biggest and most diverse set of songs presented by the band to date. From songs reminiscent of the band’s early works to songs totally divergent from their style, their fourth album is a deep and complex project that requires the listener to surrender to get the most out of the immersive experience that Notes offers. It’s almost a new and never seen adventure where you have no idea what will happen at the next stop. You can go from golden and grand moments to agonizing despairs. You can be the king of the world and, second, the biggest loser of all. At least here you will not be alone.
The band has always had the habit of beginning their albums with tracks of the same title that carry the band’s name. In addition, they always sing the same lyrics, however, with a different sound that refers to the sound present in each album. However, Notes on a Conditional Form breaks with its traditions by starting the album with an almost five-minute speech by Greta Thunberg, a young environmental activist. Next to a smooth piano that grows stronger with the passing of the track, Greta debates the social problems of the environment: as governments do not care about the environment, the exuberant amounts of oil that are extracted daily and how people are suffering from climate change. With a sensible she says: “If you look through history / All the big changes in society have been started by people at the / grassroots level / People like you and me”. However, even with its importance that is clearly exalted by the band, with the track’s progression, it seems to lose its power and impact since there for its three minutes you think “wow, she is still talking, I want to listen to music now”. However, even though it was something longer than it should have, at the end of her monologue, she said: “So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience / It is time to rebel”, becoming the kick that The 1975 needed.
Right after that, we are transported to the second track on the album, “People”. With the help of violent guitars, powerful drums and a hoarse and tired voice, Healy sings: “People like people / They want alive people / The young surprise people”. Speaking about the lack of governmental responsibility, social movements and climatic crises in the grossest, most glaring and captivating way possible, The 1975 built one of the smartest moments in all of its discography. Right after Greta begging for rebellion, they appear screaming like the youths they themselves describe (“Well, my generation wanna fuck Barack Obama / Living in a sauna with legal marijuana”) and rebelling in the most violent and necessary way possible. By far, this is the most different track that pleases, captivates and makes you want more and more of Notes. Unfortunately, this is the only track that shows, with extreme fidelity, the extreme anger and anguish of the human voice and soul.
Within Notes on a Conditional Form we have a small EP of instrumental songs that for many may sound just like an unnecessary fill. However, these tracks are largely responsible for carrying the sense, feeling, depth and immersion that Notes requires and needs. “The End (Music for Cars)” appears with a dramatic orchestra creating a great track, worthy of a great cinema film, composed of charming violins, brilliant synthesizers and celestial harps that grow and become great indestructible monsters as the music progresses. Two tracks later, “Streaming” appears a little more calm and serene, with more synthetic instruments created almost entirely by synthesizers that seem to try to transmit a spiritual experience through sound waves. Closer to the end of the album, “Having No Head” appears calm at first, only with an almost imperceptible synthesizer and a smooth piano, then it evolves into a great electronic machine of a futuristic night club that seems to want to break the barriers imposed by the laws of the universes. As stated, the tracks may seem to just fill space, however, as time goes by you realize that they almost always carry the essential primary of the album.
In addition, the album took his production skills to new styles, genres and cultures thus creating a set of tracks that form a very well done and interesting experimentation group. “Shiny Collarbone” is one of the best examples. Composed by a thick electronic and generic synthetic voice, the track works a set of default-made beats that receive a new treatment and thus starts to sound like something new and even more modern. “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied” is a homogeneous and rewarding blend of the band’s style with something from James Blake. In the chorus, Healy appears singing with a children’s choir: “Life feels like a lie, I need something to be true / Is there anybody out there?”, but when we get to the bridge, we automatically remember Blake and his album Assume Form, when a synthetic and personalityless voice appears over a beat that mixes pop with rap and indie. Being one of the most captivating of the album, “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” appears with a childlike electronic voice that sings: “This couldn’t be a dream / Runnin ‘away with me”, however, soon after it breaks in a Jamaica Pop beat while Matty sings next to a saxophone solo. In the description, it may seem like a big mess, however, the way everything fit together almost perfectly is almost inexplicable.
However, even so, there are songs over the 80 minutes that are totally indifferent, unnecessary and even irrelevant for Notes. Despite having a creative chorus, “Then Because She Goes” seems to be poorly finished, having a bad bland beginning and ending, and not getting much more than “I love you”. “Yeah I Know” is one of the most different tracks on the album, but in a negative way, since if you listen to it, you will hardly understand that it is a song from The 1975 due to the lack of personality and the essence of the band in the song. Suffering from the same, “What Should I Say” goes further in an artificiality putting only synthetic male voices to sing a lyric that is very boring and simplistic. Despite the futuristic and impressive moments of “I Think There’s Something You Should Know”, the song has become quite boring over time. Finally, despite the hidden mention of death, “Bagsy Not in Net” seems more like a combination of all the sounds already shown in Notes than a new, experimental track, or classic track from The 1975.
And even with the different moments of intensity, whether they work or not, Notes presents moments of retreat from this instrumental exaggeration represented by calm guitars, lyrics that are complexly simple and true and honest vocal performances. Next to his father, Tim Healy, Matthew appears singing a beautiful ballad in “Don’t Worry”. Despite its short lines and verses that are recited in front of an unambitious piano, the music is simply beautiful and emotional with the father and son sing: “Don’t worry, darling, the sun will shine through”. Along with Phoebe Bridgers, who makes beautiful vocals, in “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”, Healy sings and plays a soft guitar while both describe homosexual love affairs. Matty says “I’m in love with a boy I know / But that’s a feeling I can never show” and Bridgers later appears completing “I’m in love with the girl next door / Her name’s Claire / Nice when she comes’ round to call / Then masturbate the second she’s not there”.
Incredible as it may seem, there is still plenty of space for the classic songs of The 1975: drums, basses and guitars in a homogeneous and perfectly harmonized mix with indie synthesizers that give a unique and unmistakable touch to the tracks. Despite its banal and dubious lyrics (“Man in the gift shop called me a fag / I feel up my tucked-up erection”) and very generic guitar and drums, “Roadkill” has a very nice vibe. The sound compression of “Me & You Together Song” makes it difficult to understand, but when you discover the very teen and silly lyrics about loving a girl, the track grows on you. With vocals by FKA Twigs, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” covers the main theme of the band’s latest album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, talking about the relationship with a girl from a porn website. “The Birthday Party”, in turn, paints real scenes in a way lived in our minds while giving a totally new face and remodeled to a well-known beat.
Finally, a great aspect of The 1975’s songs are the lyrics that refer to Matthew’s intimacy. Healy suffers from social anxiety and has recently recovered from heroin addiction, and in “Frail State of Mind” he apologizes for his weak demeanor with his own vocals floating in the background alongside occasional saxophones. And in “Playing on My Mind” he appears with a vocal and chorus of his own voice yearning for the future and asks himself “Will I live and die in a band?” and “Will I get divorced when I’m old?”. However, even with all the positive and negative moments, he arrives in an epiphany at the end of the album, in “Guys”, in which Heavy demonstrates his true love: the band. He sings on a captivating, beautiful and emotional track: “You’re the love of my life / The moment that you took my hand / Was the best thing that ever happened, yeah / The moment that we started a band / Was the best thing that ever happened”. Finally, it seems that he decided to put his longing aside for a while and enjoy the golden moments that still remain for him. Cruelly, he took us along. But you know, we couldn’t be more thankful.
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You are a very capable person!
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