ALBUM REVIEW: THE 1975 – NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM
It’s the newest album from The 1975, arguably the biggest band out of the UK in years and they have been everywhere. It would be the definition of an epic, 22 tracks, 80 minutes long and delayed multiple times, finally, we have it in full and in front of us. Known for smooth hook laden pop, clean production and moderately controversial comments from Matt Healy can Notes on a Conditional Form live up to its status as one of the most hyped albums of 2020.
Made over 16 studios and with drummer George Daniel taking the helm as the main producer it’s all praises for the production with his seeming innate ability to do whatever Matt Healy feels like, leading to an album that constantly changes direction and genre on a dime but still with a consistent sheen, whether that be the hard-rock People or Shiny Collarbone that sounds more like something you would hear in the early morning in a German club. You can pretty much confirm that anything they make will sound great.
This does not mean I really love this album though, exceptional production besides its a positive cornucopia of different genres as Healy blithely stumbles between the many different genres on display leaving you both somewhat impressed at the feat but also underwhelmed by the execution as every song goes by in a manner that leaves no marked impression upon me apart from acknowledgement that the song did in fact exist and it sounds nice while its on. This seems to go for a majority of the album in which many songs just sound like elongated intros to better tracks or an attempt to be the likes of Brian Eno or Jon Hopkins to mixed results.
Its length does little to help my feelings upon it as worries that it would end up as a bloated mess after announcing its 22 track length have certainly not been alleviated by its release. It’s a Roman Banquet in the form of an album for there is only so much I can consume before I must be sick simply to needlessly consume more of the same. At least 7 of its 22 tracks feel as if they have been needlessly tacked on to pad the runtime full of half baked ideas or derivative rehashes of better musicians rather than really adding anything to the album as a whole. You could realistically tear out at least 20 minutes to be thrown on to an inevitable deluxe edition and improve the album, especially when many of the most critically acclaimed albums of the last few years have clocked in at less than 40 minutes.
In some cases It seems certain songs did not really go past the first draft and were only saved by the golden touch of George Daniel. Then Because She Goes is a mess of a track with the drums seemingly having no idea where the hell they are and a sound that reminds me of an attempt to either recreate the early 2k spark we hear in Me & You Together Song, or a failed prototype that they were messing around with and put it in to bulk out the track list. Other tracks could not even be saved in the production with Bagsy Not in Net sounding like someone accidentally put a highpass on the whole thing and then smashed up the reverb for its unneeded 2:26 of runtime.
In the albums whole runtime the best we really hear is the singles that we have already heard. Me & You Together is a brilliant piece of cutesy, late 90s pop rock with a catchy melody and a hook of equal quality. People, though now a complete departure from anything else on the record, is exceptional with its vibe akin to that of Daughters or other hard rock and metal bands of that particular ilk. If you’re too shy (Let me know) is also a great piece of 80s pop rock and likely the most stereotypically 1975 song on the whole album, with that constant four to the floor beat, smooth catchy melody and persistent electronic bass with a somewhat hidden subversion to the usual message with the woman in this case asking for the boy to take their clothes off. So we have some great tracks here, this constant case of genre hopping has turned out singles that are absolutely great, but has it made a whole album? No.
It seems that The 1975 have put this out as more of a compilation in which the fans themselves must edit it into a playlist of the ones actually worth listening to, because let’s be honest do you, even as someone who agrees deeply with the message, actually want to hear that intro again? Or do you really need to listen to the literal nothing that was Streaming again? I don’t hear a good album here, I just hear a bunch of good songs with quite a few duds sprinkled in for absolutely no reason. There is undeniably something here, outside of its singles I think there’s something you should know is pretty great and Shiny Collarbone is a genuinely interesting take on the genre but it’s simply too long, with too much fluff and bluster for its own sake.
Their third album (A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships) was described by some as the Ok Computer of the generation, leading the band in a supposed unexpected and more experimental direction. It seems much of the same has happened here, comparisons to Kid A and the Beatles white album. But is this comparison deserved? Is this mess of songs with the occasional great track thrown in to placate an audience who really just wants some pop rock bangers to shout along to at the next show even comparable? Both of those albums mentioned are not just great albums conceptually but also great examples of their genres and the breadth you could go to with them at the time, they’re also not as bloated as a Tudor king. All I’ve got from the 1975 is a bunch of mixed messages for over 6 months on what this album is and at the end of it all is 22 songs that range from really good to needless add-ons that at best should be on the B-Side of a deluxe edition.
Notes on a conditional form is not a bad album, there is something good in here if you rip away about a third of its songs. some of the tracks (Mostly already released singles) are incredible takes on the genre in question which is definitely something to be applauded. But it’s simply too long, spends too much of its time with failed experiments and there is little change in their sound unless you have a major hankering for The 1975 to be a Brian Eno Covers band. Their synths have had the same tonal quality for 4 albums and their guitars much the same, there is no evolution here. It’s not the meticulously realised epic that was promised and I will never listen to it from front to back again in my entire life unless out of some sort of masochistic need to hear 100 creative ways to use the same synth patch.
Highlight Tracks: People, Me & You Together Song, If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)