Artist: The 1975
Album: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It
In Brief: I go back and forth between “bold experiment” and “sprawling mess” when trying to describe this 17-track opus. It’s not at all what you’d expect based on its singles, and at times the detours can try my patience, but they cover a lot of stylistic ground here, and I’m actually drawn to their introverted side more than I would have expected.
The 1975 is a ridiculous band. I’m pretty sure they present themselves this way for a reason. Keyboard-heavy indie rock bands mining the sounds of past decades with the hopes of wringing some sort of irony out of the nostalgia are certainly nothing new, but usually once you’ve heard a single or two from such a group, you know you’re in for 10 or 12 tracks of mostly the same thing – a sonic blast from the past polished up with a few modern sensibilities, no real surprises once you get over the fact that somebody’s actually making this kind of music in 2016 and being entirely sincere about it. There are those who make this kind of music deliberately to mock its excesses as well, but The 1975 are in that weird space where you aren’t sure if their inherent over-the-top-ness is ambitious or just self-effacing. Frontman Matty Healy his this air of taking himself way too seriously, but I’m not sure if he actually does or if it’s all kayfabe. This creates a weird situation where I enjoy a lot of the band’s music on the surface, but I’m not sure to what extent I connect with it on a deeper level or if it’s meant to have that much depth to it in the first place. If the title of the band’s sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, or the fact that it has 17 tracks doesn’t clue you in that they’re fully aware of their own pretentiousness and they’ve decided to have some fun with it anyway, then I’m not sure anything will.
If I had to describe the band’s style, one phrase or even one sentenece wouldn’t really do it justice, because you hear a single of theirs and you might expect “synthpop” or “funk rock” or something of that nature, but they run through such a gamut of different styles on this obstacle course of an album that I don’t think any of those labels, or even the generic “retro rock” tag I’ve personally assigned to them in iTunes, is descriptive enough. They certainly lead off with a few tracks that more than fit the bill, but then the album takes this weird detour into a much more introverted headspace that I wasn’t expecting and that seriously had me regretting taking the plunge the first time through. I mean, what was I expecting? I fell in love with a few of their catchy hits, and did I really expect or want that they would keep up that style all the way through 17 tracks? Going back through it a few more times, I realized that there was something strangely appealing about the non-radio-friendly nature of some of the deeper album cuts here. None of it’s outright abrasive, but I’d say a good chunk of it is probably too moody to ever find mainstream appeal, and having stuff like that right along the really punchy singles that got me into the band is kind of exciting, albeit disorienting. There are certainly a few experiments that don’t work, and attempts at more acoustic material toward the end of the album that I think might have been better left for an unplugged record or a collection of B-sides, but I can’t fault them for trying really hard to not be a one-trick pony. I’ve heard that their debut album was like this as well, though not having listened to that record yet, I can only speak to the diversity present on this one and not to how they might have grown or changed since then.
Regarding the lyrics on this album… well, honestly I could take or leave a lot of ’em. If the title gives you a bit of a skeevy vibe, then you’re on the right track in terms of the weird details that a few of these tracks linger on as they attempt to recap what went wrong in certain relationships, or even how the band relates to its own celebrity status. There will be a really wry, quotable line followed up by something jarring or even mildly embarrassing that I’d never want to repeat other than to point out what a stupid lyrical choice it was. While a few songs do earn the “explicit” tag that Spotify has assigned to them, I don’t feel like the band is ever explicitly vulgar or saying anything purely for shock value. They’re just trying their best to be honest about situations where the people involved are more than a little messed up in the head. Most of the time I find myself caring more about the “style” of a song than the “substance” of it, but I never feel like they’re trying on different styles just to jump on a bandwagon or whatnot – there’s a reason why specific styles were chosen to fit the mood of certain songs, and for the most part they pull off the genre roulette quite well. I definitely don’t agree with Healy’s assertion that the world needs all 74 minutes of this record (because even on some of my all-time favorite records of epic length, there are extended jams or interludes or movements within songs that I feel like could have been trimmed a bit), but I’m glad that they made something which, when it’s all said and done, feels like a record that only these four individuals could have made. They’re not gonna be my favorite band any time soon, but they’re also not purely a guilty pleasure. They haven’t fallen into the copycat rut that they so easily could have.
1. The 1975
The opening track feels all wrong on so many levels. There’s this big, whooshing noise that slowly fades in and then suddenly cuts out, leaving just a long enough silent gap before the lyrics come in that if you’re listening via streaming as I was at first, you’ll wonder for a second if your Internet connection just went down. Apparently the lyrics are exactly the same as the similarly short opening track with the same title on the group’s debut album, but the musical style is different. (Why you’d want to reuse lines as daft as “Breathing in your hair” or “Step in your skin, I’d rather jump in your bones” is beyond me.) The vocals are drenched in reverb and probably meant to open the record with a dreamy feel, but given how abruptly this transitions into the guitar-heavy first single, it honestly makes no sense to me whatsoever. Fortunately this is probably the harshest criticism that I have for any track on the album, so we’ve gotten the worst part out of the way early.
2. Love Me
The lead single is an impressive little number that seems like it’s all big guitar hooks and a funky backbeat at first, and then over time you start to realize it’s a bit subversive. There’s no denying the immediate appeal of the funk-influenced guitar lick that repeats itself throughout most of the song, occasionaly jumping back and forth from speaker to speaker in an onboxious ploy to get your attention, and from the percussion to Healy’s excited shouts and screams to the weird theremin-like sound effects to the guitar solo that suddenly creeps up on you during the bridge, there’s just so much to love about this one. It’s excitable power pop that gives me a bit of an OK Go vibe. And it’s fitting, for a song about a celebrity willing to do or say pretty much anything to stay in the spotlight. On the one hand, Healy is sincere – he wants to be loved and doesn’t mind making a clown of himself on stage if that accomplishes his goal, but on the other hand, he’s making all this wry commentary on the celebrity culture he’s caught up in and he realizes it’s all vanity. I don’t know many songwriters who could come up with a tongue-twister as delicious as “Caught up in fashion, Karcrashian panache/And a bag of bash for passion.” This man is clearly gifted at manipulating words when he puts his mind to it.
As the late Robin Williams once said, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.” That seems to be what this song is about, a vicious cycle of trying to get off the drug and then crawling right on back to it. Not my favorite subject matter for a song, but you have to read between the lines to really figure out it’s about an addiction and someone trying and failing to help him get off of it. I like the very rubbery, danceable rhythm and guitar riffs here, and the way that the rapid-fire chorus just rolls off the tongue. Of course it’s one of the most jarring lyrical moments on the album when he sings, “I don’t have the capacity for f*cking, you’re meant to be helping me”, but it’s interesting that he chose to drop the f-bomb in a circumstance where he wants a relationship to be about making him a better person and not just mindless sex, at least if I’m interpreting that right. There’s an inherent seediness to this one that I’d imagine will be off-putting for some, as it was to me at first, but it flows so perfectly out of “Love Me” that it really feels like the songs were destined to be paired up like this.
4. A Change of Heart
It feels a bit too early to transition into mid-tempo synthpop – I was dazzled enough by the guitar and keyboard wizardry on display in those first few songs that I’m too antsy to settle down just yet. Musically, this one may be a bit too gooey of a ballad for its own good, but the lyrics aren’t terribly sentimental. If anything, they’re rather apathetic, describing the breakdown of a relationship due to one or both parties realizing how superficial their interactions had become. A lot of the lyrics are jarring when you take them at face value, until you realize they’re pieces of a larger puzzle, miniscule offenses that led up to the dawning realization that two people don’t really care that much about each other. Some of the lines are downright cringeworthy in their bluntness (“Was it your breasts from the start?/They played a part”), while others are actually quite clever in their juxtaposition of fake depth and flat-out shallowness (“You said I’m full of diseases/Your eyes were full of regret/And then you took a picture of your salad/And put it on the Internet.”) Musically I just don’t get that excited about this one, but the lyrics have been rather interesting to dissect.
5. She’s American
The bass and guitar licks, percussion, keyboards, and the sheer kinetic energy of this one are just so 1980s that I feel like the band named themselves “The 1975” just to avoid giving away the decade that truly captured their passions. Non-stop fun here in the musical department. Lyrically, the cultural differences explored here as Matty explains why a relationship between him and an American girl didn’t work out fall into that uncomfortable space where I’m not sure if they’re meant to be funny or serious. I mean there’s a line about her wanting him to fix his teeth right there in the chorus – I can’t avoid it because it keeps coming back around, and I feel like it’s the oldest joke ever told about British people and I don’t know whether it’s meant to be laughed at here. A lot of the lyrics seem to be more concerned with social relevance than with genuine attraction – being seen out and about by poparazzi and getting re-tweeted and Instagrammed and whatever the cool kids are doing nowadays. Amidst a lot of the weird cultural flotsam and jetsam, this little nugget of wisdom really stands out (which ironically is a sentiment that he had posted on Twitter a few years back, I’m just now learning): “Don’t fall in love with the moment and think you’re in love with the girl.” Sounds like he learned that one the hard way, but man, those are words to live by.
6. If I Believe You
Hope you enjoyed the catchy stuff, because now we’re getting into the deep album cuts. That’s not to say there’s nothing rhythmically or melodically appealing about this next batch of songs, but it is 100% not what you would expect based on what you’d heard so far. This is where my patience started to run out the first time through, because I couldn’t see how a 6-minute long, R&B/Gospel-inflected ballad in which Healy explores the emotional hurdles that stand between him and religious belief, made any sense whatsoever in the context of anything else going on around it. I’ve come to appreciate the musical experiment for what it is – the little interjections from a choir that punch up the chorus, the meandering synth and keyboard solos, the Bon Iver-esque, heavily Autotuned outro, and so forth. But I still find myself wanything the band to just get on with it after about minute four. I’m not offended per se by his admission that he’s still an atheist because, in his mind, Jesus hasn’t shown himself to be real, but I do feel at times like this song is baiting religious believers just for the sake of it. It’s more of an introspective realization than an angry rant, and I appreciate having a window into his thought process even though obviously he and I came to different conclusions a long time ago.
7. Please Be Naked
Admit it – from the title, you were expecting something a lot more salacious than a tender, instrumental piano ballad. Even though the overall momentum of the record has taken a nosedive at this point and it just feels like the band’s throwing out every idea they can think of in the hope that something sticks, I like the overall aura of this one. It conveys a mood of waking up on a peaceful morning, with sunlight streaming into the room, and realizing that you’re genuinely in love with the person sleeping (presumably naked, hence the title) next to you and it wasn’t just a meaningless encounter destined to end in a walk of shame.
I had a weird experience of not really caring for this song, then kind of liking it for a while, then realizing it was a lot of long, slow, buildup to something that’s not really all that much of a climax. It’s a very hazy song that spends most of its time wrapped in a distant layer of guitar feedback, repeating the same simple verse a few times but not really having a chorus or anything to break it out of its simplistic structure. The minimal approach brings to mind a few bands in the shoegaze genre, which I’m guessing is what they were trying to emulate, though they do try to go for this big rock moment at the end where suddenly the drums come in and the guitar is doing this soaring melodic thing, and it’s a nice try but it’s too little, too late at that point. I’ll give ’em points for how beautifully this song segues out of “Please Be Naked” – the chord progression seems almost the same despite the instrumentation being very different, as if these two tracks were meant to be a continuation of the same lucid dream.
9. The Ballad of Me and My Brain
This is the closest thing to an “upbeat” track in the otherwise very dreamlike center section of the album – it’s another one of those moments where I’m not sure if they’re being serous or silly as a man describes going off on a search for the brain he’s lost (which it sounds like has lead him to some unwise encounters with groupies and other tomfoolery). It opens with these weird samples of an angelic choir, getting looped back as part of the beat while the drums and keyboards are the main thing driving the song. This builds up to an implied climax that it never actually reaches due to the song cutting out suddenly at the three-minute mark. I can sympathize with his experience of trying to be “on” all the time in his role as a celebrity when his head is really elsewhere, so in general I get where the song is going, even if I feel like it doesn’t really have enough time to fully explain itself before it suddenly ends.
10. Somebody Else
Oh, man. This song is just devastating, and I mean that in a good way. The keyboards and the drum programming are such a classic 1980s mood that I find myself picturing Matty with his mascara running as he sings it. Musically, we’ve reached the melancholy high point of the album, but where you’d normally expect a song like this to be all about romantic devotion and eternity and promising things that are downright impossible outside the context of a melodramatic power ballad, this one actually turns out to be the most cold-hearted thing on the entire record. As in a few of the earlier songs, he’s had it with a relationship. His heart’s been a stone fro a while, sex isn’t even interesting any more, but he’s too malicious to actually cut her loose. As the chorus says, “I don’t want your body, but I hate to think about you with somebody else.” It’s going to sound hypocritical for me to be so engrossed in a song that seems hell-bent on keeping someone in a dead-end relationship just to spite them, when I just criticized Miike Snow for writing about the exact same thing. It’s just that here, the music is so on point that I understand it’s an emotional catharsis to admit to having all of these awful thoughts, rather than making me feel awkward by being all playful and cavalier about it. When he reaches the high point of bitterness in the bridge and remarks, “Get someone you love/Get someone you need/F*ck that, get money/I can’t give you my soul ’cause we’re never alone” several times, I realize that he’s not actually advocating total materialism and hedonism; he’s just trying to communicate how much his trust has been damaged to bring him to a point where things are easier to put his faith in than people. It’s a supremely sad moment, but kind of a profound one, too.
11. Loving Someone
And now we’re right back to one of those moments where I’m not sure how seriously to take the band. This one sounds like it should be a remix of an Ed Sheeran song. I can’t help it; that’s just where my mind goes when I hear a British white boy trying to rap. Not that it’s an entirely bad sound – it’s just that the overall cadence of it really sounds like something Sheeran would have come up with, then they just layered what sounds like a female vocal hook and a ton of synths and slick programming on top of it. This song is necessary to the narrative here, as sort of a talking down from the ledge after the despair felt in “Somebody Else”; the chorus assures us, “You should be loving someone”, and the verses go into quite a verbose examination of all the wrong things we’ve been sold by our culture that jack up our expectations of what love even means. As goofy as this might all sound, once again I’m impressed by the wordplay and the slick, tongue-twistery nature of it all.
12. I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It
You might think that the title track is finally going to shed some light on the reasons behind giving this album since a preposterously long title that gives most of us the willies as we think about stalkers watching beautiful women sleep, but despite a lyrical refrain of “Before you go, turn the big light off”, it’s got literally nothing else to say. It’s not meant to. It’s largely an instrumental track – and probably the best example of a few minutes out of the 74 that the world did not, in fact, really need. Not that I mind it. The first few minutes of this song are a wonderfully subtle and soothing synthpop ballad, and the second half seems to continue in that same sort of lullabye vein before building up to more of a danceable conclusion. Odd vocal samples and other electronic trickery abound, so it’s a fun diversion, but still ultimately a diversion. I actually think this would have worked better at the end of the album – you’ve been through the climax and the comedown at that point, and these are the end credits, rather than an overly long and indulgent scene that you have to sit through to get to the final third of the movie.
13. The Sound
“Well, I know when you’re around, ’cause I know the sound, I know the sound of your heart.” That might be the dumbest chorus ever, because it makes no sense to me even as a metaphor for something, but I’m not gonna lie, I love the chirpy vocals and happy-go-lucky retro-disco feel of this one. This was the song that piqued my interest in the band after they performed it (as well as “Love Me”) on Saturday Night Live, and I kind of based my expectations of the band upon it – basically something that I’d have fun with stylistically but that I had no reason to expect to any real emotional depth from it. I should have known based on how far back they buried one of the album’s lead singles in its track listing that they had a lot more tricks up their sleeve, I guess. Based on lines like “A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe” that I somehow missed the first few times around, I must say that Matty knows how to apply quite a few 50 dollar words in pursuit of his own self-deprecation, and I kind of appreciate that about him as a songwriter when he could have just as easily sang about nothing for the duration of this song and I’d still enjoy it. Not that the wordplay really changes my life or anything like that, but I appreciate those little moments that make me stop and try to unravel them in the midst of what might otherwise be pure ear candy with no other motivation behind it. (Speaking of ear candy: Absolutely sweet guitar solo in this one.)
14. This Must Be My Dream
While I appreciate that we’re spending a few tracks back in upbeat territory after that long, somber midsection of the album, I can’t help but feel like this track is filler. The cheery, keyboard-laden pop atmosphere was done better earlier in the album, and the tale of unrequited love that Healy spins here is a bit of a tired one, almost reaching into boy band territory with its tired “world/girl” rhymes and so forth. The staccato chorus hook is hackneyed and cheesy, and even an out-of-nowhere sax solo can’t push it into the realm of fun, intentionally excessive nostalgia that they’ve pulled off elsewhere. Leave this sort of stuff to M83, okay?
We’re gradually ramping down the tempo as the album enters its home stretch. This laid-back tune is still very 80s-inspired, but it keeps the mood more reflective and doesn’t seem to be doing anything overly kitschy for its own sake. The young and rich with way too much time and money on their hands seem to be the focus here, jetting back and forth between places like New York, London, and Paris and basically doing all the drugs they can manage to get up their nostrils. There’s some clever wordplay here – “She’s a pain in the nose/I’m a pain in woman’s clothes” is quite the telling couplet early on – but after five minutes, the sad seediness of it really starts to get old.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear an acoustic song show up this late in the game. It’s not 100% unplugged – I think I still hear some synth ambiance amidst the gentle fingerpicking and the thrilling sound of the upright bass. But it shows that the band has a more “organic” side to them, and I appreciate that. For the most part, this song is a touching tribute to a deceased relative, either a mother or a grandmother who Matty wishes was still around so he could tell her about all the amazing and devastating things that have gone on in his life since she passed. Things get kind of lame in the second verse, when he tells her “I don’t like it, now you’re dead/It’s not the same when I scratch my own head/I haven’t got the nails for it.” Maybe that was a form of affection between the two of them when he was little, but it just seems a bit tone-deaf to complain about such a minor inconvenience when the other person is suffering the comparatively larger inconvenience of being, y’know, dead. Then it briefly becomes an author tract about how God doesn’t exist, but he kind of wishes there was an afterlife so that she could hear him. Total mood whiplash there. It’s not so much the God stuff that bothers me, but the way he keeps making things all about him when it sounds like that wasn’t really the intent behind the song. It really takes me out of the moment and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, even though I love everything about the song on a musical level.
17. She Lays Down
I’ve commented before on how much of a cliche I think it is for an otherwise talented band to strip everything down to just the lead singer and some rather basic, uninspired acoustic guitar chords just to prove that they can be all sensitive and stuff on the last track of an album. Usually it doesn’t fit with anything that came before it. In The 1975’s case, it’s redundant, because they did such a good job of “full-band acoustic” with the previous track, and this just feels like artificial spontaneity, as if we’re supposed to believe this was one of those diamond in the rough moments in the studio where Matty was playing a rough draft of a song he wrote and this was the one take he did, and they left it as is. Maybe that’s genuinely what happened, but the tacked-on sounds of him setting up and then saying “That was it” at the end make it feels like a staged moment that we’re supposed to believe was impromptu. Subject-wise, this song is also about family, and I’m pretty sure this time it’s his mother, but it’s an incredibly sad song as he recounts how she turned to cocaine to get over the depression of being a new mom. It’s implied, though never directly stated, that she never overcame her addiction. I’d be fine with this if it wasn’t retreading subject matter from so many other songs on the record – I suppose it informs some of his own struggles, but still, I’m over all the talk of drugs at this point. Just due to the sheer length of the record and this track sounding nothing like the rest of it, I really feel like it might have been better off as a hidden track or B-side, or part of a separate album that was meant to tell more of a cohesive, conceptual story.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
The 1975 –$.25
Love Me $1.75
A Change of Heart $.50
She’s American $1.25
If I Believe You $1
Please Be Naked $1
The Ballad of Me and My Brain $.75
Somebody Else $1.75
Loving Someone $1.25
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It $1
The Sound $1.75
This Must Be My Dream $.50
She Lays Down $.25
Matthew Healy: Lead vocals, guitar
Adam Hann: Guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
George Daniel: Drums, backing vocals
Ross MacDonald: Bass, keyboards, backing vocals
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF: