'Lyrically, the album chronicles introspection, contemplation, and self-doubt'Instagram / the1975

Long before its release, Notes On a Conditional Form was an odd album. Promised as a swift follow-up to 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, Notes was released a whole year late. It is an 80-minute stream of consciousness which never really finds its footing but provokes some interesting conversations nonetheless.

Lyrically, the album chronicles introspection, contemplation, and self-doubt. Healy, the frontman and lyricist, speaks plainly about anxiety on ‘Frail State of Mind’, with relatable quips like "I’m sorry that I missed your call / I watched it ring". The band is as self-referential as ever: "If you don’t eat, then you’ll never grow / I should’ve learnt that quite a while ago", a reference in ‘Roadkill’ to their 2013 fan-favourite song ‘Robbers’. ‘Playing On My Mind’ is a lovely acoustic song, reminiscent of ‘She Lays Down’, in which Healy poses unrelated questions ("why am I always cold?") alongside some more serious concerns ("will I get divorced when I’m old?") and poignant observations about his failing relationship.

There are eight majoritively instrumental tracks on the album, seven of which sound like practice palettes for the one gem amongst them, ‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know’. The song successfully fuses 2-step garage, ambient, and glitch, which are all attempted in isolation in the other tracks, to little avail. Healy and co-producer/bandmate George Daniel experiment with the anarchic, post-punk track ‘People’, while ‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’ evokes Ska with its offbeat guitar upstrokes, and Kanye West with its vocodered interpolation of the Temptations’ ‘Just My Imagination’. Both are quite successful gambles, but by the time we’ve also had a dancehall/house tune, a Tears For Fears homage and a gospel/neo-soul track, you can’t help but wonder why a 17-year-old band is floundering for a musical foundation.

These songs don’t want to interact with each other, and this discord makes for a jarring listening experience. Even so, it is this form, rather than the lyrics or the music, which redeems the album as a piece of artwork. The lyrics of Notes detail self-doubt, but it’s the confused concoction of genres spanning 22 songs that best reflects that theme. For the most part, I don’t find this album aesthetically pleasing, but it excellently mirrors its own uncertainty, and therein lies its artistic merit.

"It is a piece of artwork which is personal to the extent that it is almost pointless to the outside listener."

Another laudable use of form is the opening song. It may have disappointed some; a three-album legacy of exploding into existence with ‘Go Down / Soft Sound’ is replaced by a Greta Thunberg speech on climate change. Still entitled ‘The 1975’, the song is a Trojan Horse, and a powerful one, which sacrifices an identity-establishing tradition and recognises that something is more important than themselves, their band, or their brand, and it must be given the spotlight now. An important message, ingeniously packaged, but once received and acknowledged, it’s not the sort of thing you want to listen to again.

Over the past few years, The 1975 have positioned themselves as a political band. Naturally then, the first two tracks of the album lament ecological disaster and consumerism. But then this theme drops off the face of the earth until ‘Roadkill’, in which Matty does a one-eighty, wishing for the apolitical life, "I took shit for being quiet during the election / And maybe that’s fair but I’m a busy guy." Forget apolitical: moments of this album are tone deaf. I began to feel uneasy when Healy, a self-described “straight and camp” man, in three songs attempts to narrate the LGBT+ experience. Utterly uncomfortable was the verse in ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’ where the Cheshire-born frontman pitches down his voice and attempts to rap like a London grime artist, a choice that I can only describe as musical blackface. Unfortunately, both instances shake my faith in The 1975, who seem to be losing control of their craft.

In NOACF, the band are at their best when they’re strumming guitars and singing about love, whether it be for each other, in ‘Guys’, or for a girl, in ‘Me & You Together Song’. In the latter, the lyrics "We went to winter wonderland and it was shit but we were happy" are delivered in a welcome, familiar melody and encased within a song that sounds like the culmination of a noughties coming of age movie. It’s a totally joyous and heart-wrenchingly nostalgic sound that should have become their niche for this album.


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For me, a lyric from track thirteen, ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied’, sums up the album: "I never fucked in a car I was lying / I do it in a bed, lying down, not trying". Anyone who follows The 1975 knows that one of their most beloved themes is car sex. The career-defining, ‘Love It If We Made It’, bursts to life with that exact image. The band’s first three albums feel like car sex, this one feels like Healy lying down, contemplating himself, giving a generally underwhelming performance. Notes is self-serving and refuses to deliver in the ways the past albums have. It is a piece of artwork which is personal to the extent that it is almost pointless to the outside listener. The 1975 are no longer ‘romanticising heroine’, and maybe that doesn’t make for as inspiring a listen, but to its credit, Notes is an honest album and if Matty can see himself in it, then I suppose it has done its job.

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