Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It

The 1975

Interscope, 2016

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I first heard The 1975 on Saturday Night Live a couple of months back, when Sen. Bernie Sanders and Larry David were on, and the band’s throwback sound was quite appealing. Contrary to the name, The 1975’s mindset is pure ‘80s for inspiration, but pure 2010s for production.

This contrast works to the band's advantage; they are able to find the pure pop and fun across the genres, which is why the INXS-fueled guitar of "Love Me" and the clipped electronic effects and vague R&B/Maroon 5 feel of "UGH!" work so well together, or how "A Change Of Heart" is a kind of mashup between John Mayer's "Your Body Is A Wonderland" and Madonna's "Crazy For You." 

This may give the impression that these guys are simply rewriting pop history, which is not the case. They're proud of their iPod collection, sure, but talented enough in their own right to bring a strutting, preening, gaudy, 74-minute pop album to a large audience with no trace of irony. These are guys who can turn on a dime from Duran Duran to a straight gospel-pop tune like "If I Believe You" and make it sound sincere.

Singer Matthew Healy acquits himself very well, encompassing a wide range of styles (gospel, disco, crooner, rock star), but as a lyricist he can get a bit wordy and obtuse ("I know your lungs need filling since your gums have lost their feeling / But don't say that you're giving it up again / Do you have a card / My irregular heartbeat is starting to correct itself"). His confidence and charm helps sell this record and will make it appeal to pop fans across the board. Moreover, although the lyrics get horribly indulgent, they cover themes of love, loss, finding oneself, addiction/recovery, and the misunderstood rush of youthful emotion in ways that feel lived-in and earned.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That said, the sheer length of this seems antithetical to the band's heroes, who knew when to pull back (unless they were trying to make a Statement). The 15-minute stretch in the center of the overlong "If I Believe You," the synth instrumental "Please Be Naked," and the moody synth swoosh of "Lostmyhead" kills all the momentum from the strong first half. Still, this audacity is to be admired. Rather than take one or two ideas, The 1975 knows that modern audiences are both fickle and wide-ranging, so they solve it by appealing to as many people as possible at once.

"The Ballad Of Me And My Brain" is a shouty Peter Gabriel-inspired piece that builds up before an electronic drum closing section, while the six-minute "Somebody Else" is basically a better version of "Lostmyhead," albeit more glacial and synth-heavy (so, Tears For Fears), complete with falsetto vocal pops and an icy solo. 

The 1975 has acquired a solid fanbase that treats them as a boy band of sorts, although they are nowhere near the prefab, professionally-written pop of, say, OneDirection, and Healy has no problem shooting off at the mouth or adjudicating the stage presence of, say, Justin Bieber to do his own thing. That Healy is from Manchester isn't a surprise, given the "Madchester" scene of 1987-1991; the music isn't the same, but the attitude of the Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, and Charlatans UK is evident in his band's confidence and cheek.

Of course, if these guys had a bit more restraint, they could have trimmed a solid half hour out of this and be left with a stellar pop album to rival anything in 2016. But like its title, I Like It...just drags on and on, synth sculpture after retro pop song, reaching its nadir in the repetitive instrumental seven-minute title track that shows up two thirds of the way through (this thing has 17 songs, FYI). Perhaps sensing this, "The Sound" (the other song from that SNL show) appears next, distilling the same INXS-meets-boy band as prior songs, but with a catchy chorus and danceable beat; if it's not currently a hit (I have no idea these days), it should be.

One can look at current pop music and despair: self-centered hipness and forgettable electronic blurps on one end, professionally-written "track-and-hook" soulless hit machine pop on the other (looking at you, Max Martin and Dr. Luke). This disc is somewhere in the middle, all wide-eyed earnestness and feeling and unedited Technicolor throwback. An album like this has a definite home in 2016, and even if it runs too long with too many ambient and prefab cuts, the best songs show the direction pop music can take while building on what has come before.

Rating: B-

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