The 1975 is not a disco tribute band.
In fact, listening to this British alt-rock/electropop quartet’s 17-track sophomore album, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps they should have called themselves The 1985. Frontman Matt Healy’s accent, combined with his band’s retro-synth melodies and jangly clean guitar convincingly recall the mid-’80s. It was an era when you couldn’t go five minutes without hearing similar-sounding songs from the likes of Duran Duran, ABC, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, The Human League, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and so many others like them.
So what does The 1975 moniker mean, then? When he was 19, Healy was given a copy of Beat poet Jack Kerouac’s infamous work On the Road. In it was a handwritten note that inspired the band’s name. “I found a page of scribblings. … The important thing that stuck with me was that the page was dated ‘1st June. The 1975,'” he told the U.K.’s Guardian. “At the time I just thought that the word ‘The’ preceding a date was a strong use of language. … When it came to naming the band, it was perfect.”
It wasn’t just a cryptic annotation that captivated Healy’s imagination. Kerouac’s romanticization of hedonism did, too. “That book for me was as important as it is for any impressionable 19-year-old, especially if it’s gifted to you by an artist you met on holiday,” Healy related to iamhighvoltage.com. “It’s just the whole blazing about that really captured me, the whole kind of sexually charged, sexually and chemically charged experimentation of that Beat movement. I loved the idea of that. I loved the idea of being part of that. I love the idea of the instigation of that; I love the idea of being part of that kind of cultural movement.”
Seven years later, his band’s first No. 1 album Stateside sounds like proof that he has indeed become part of that kind of cultural movement.
“Nana” offers a (sometimes) poignant tribute to Matt Healy’s deceased grandmother. “Love Me” skewers narcissistic celebrity culture (“Caught up in fashion/Karcrashian panache/ … You’ve got a beautiful face but got nothing to say”). Similar commentary shows up on “UGH!” and “The Sound.” “Lostmyhead” and “The Ballad of My Brain” both fancifully deal, positively at times, with themes of mental illness and what happens to celebrities when they’re forced to deal with the claustrophobia-inducing, nonstop barrage of attention from fans. “Loving Someone” addresses how TV and compromised celebrities use sex to sell their messages, contrasting that with the need to genuinely care for others (“And I’m trying to progress, but instead of selling sex/And I think I should be/Loving someone”).
“She’s American” observes sagely, “Don’t fall in love with the moment/And think you’re in love with the girl.” And here Healy also recognizes that relationships are about more than just a physical connection (“You’re entwining your soul with somebody else”). “Paris” and “She Lays Down” admit that drug abuse can’t heal heartache.
“If I Believe You” asks some seemingly earnest questions about feelings of spiritual emptiness: “I’ve got a God-shaped hole that’s infected/And I’m petrified of being alone/ … And if I believe You, would that make it stop?/ … I’m broken and bleeding and begging for help/And I’m asking You, Jesus, show Yourself.” But …
… the track stops short of embracing faith as it drifts into mockery and drug abuse before darting toward atheism (“I thought I’d met You once or twice/But that was just because the dabs [drugs] were nice and opening up my mind”). Healy goes on to tell Jesus, “I’ll be Your child if You insist/I mean, if it was You that made my body You probably shouldn’t have made me atheist.” On “Nana,” Healy sings to his deceased grandmother, “And I know that God doesn’t exist/ … But I like to think you hear me sometimes.”
Healy describes himself (oddly) as “a lesbian kiss” on “If I Believe You.” And a track named after the band is entirely about a man’s experience with oral sex. Even the instrumental “Please Be Naked” is purportedly an attempt to use musical sounds to suggest a sexual encounter. “UGH!” relays Healy’s obscene world-weariness when he admits, “I don’t have the capacity for f—ing.”
More drugs, sex and bitterness mingle on “A Change of Heart,” where Healy wonders, “Am I too old to be this stoned?” and ponders his ex’s seductive carnal charms (“Was it your breasts from the start? They played a part”). He tells her, “I’ll quote On the Road like a tw-t and wind my way out of the city,” before casually dissing her with, “Finding a girl who is equally pretty won’t be hard.” She retorts, “You look like s— and smell a bit/You’re mad thinking you could ever save me.” “The Sound” references a bored woman who masturbates while calling an ex. “Somebody Else” says to an ex, “I don’t want your body/ … But I’m picturing your body with somebody else.”
Vulgarities and obscenities (s- and f-words) show up on four of 17 tracks.
There’s a surprising quantity of unblinking honesty to be found on I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. But it’s an album as sprawlingly messy as its title, ping-ponging between incisive self-awareness, deep emptiness in the wake of rejecting God, and struggles to find lasting love.
Sex and drugs turn up often, and they do little to blunt the ache of Matt Healy’s existential angst, something he’s at least honest enough to admit. This rising indie band pines for healing, love and truth. In the end, though, these musically talented guys are far from finding any of those things. The result is an album that’s as brutally honest as it is brutally hopeless.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.