The first time I heard the 1975 song “Love It If We Made It,” I was only half-listening to it: clicking between tabs, transmitting the song through tinny and suboptimal laptop speakers, trying to do about three too many things at once. You know, being alive in 2018. Because I wasn’t giving the song my full attention, I assumed the title was just a cheeky innuendo, a provocative wink from the band’s impish lead singer, Matty Healy: “I’d love it if we made it.” But something about the song’s bewitching industrial churn pulled me in, made me listen harder. It was then I realized something much deeper was going on. This song knew I was only half-listening (because isn’t that just how things go these days?), and it was calling me on it. “Oh, fuck your feelings, truth is only hearsay,” Healy yelps like a street preacher. “We’re just left to decay, modernity has failed us—and I’d love it if we made it.”
Oh, he means like if we make it. As a species. Jesus.
This song is one for the time capsule, though the open question of whether anyone will be around to discover it is one of its animating and quintessentially millennial anxieties. Healy wrote it in bits and pieces over the past two or so years—as an underqualified bully has become the leader of the free world and the average person is bombarded daily with ever-worsening news about the future inhabitability of Earth. Modernity indeed! The original idea was to make a song entirely derived from tabloid headlines, Healy told Pitchfork, but he granted himself a bit of poetic license to make it all more pointed and affecting. And so meme language (“poison me, daddy”) is juxtaposed with references to the refugee crisis (“a beach of drowning 3-year-olds”); Trump and Kanye are evoked alongside Jesus, all in a patter that’s a little bit Jenny Holzer, a little bit “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” It’s flat, unsettling, and decontextualized—and that’s the point, because so is life right now. The saving grace is that chorus, a kaleidoscopic explosion of glimmering pop that hits like a firework. The song would be too bleak without it, but the tension between these two moods creates something that’s both clear-eyed and hopeful. “That is the song in its essence,” Healy recently said. “How weird is reality?”
For modern people who spend more of their time than they’d like staring at screens, the 1975’s expansive third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, out Friday, might hit a little too close to home. You can, of course, probably write your own equally discomfiting “Love It If We Made It” verse at any moment of the day, just by singing the topics trending side-by-side on Twitter. Right now, for example, in a moment that will have long become obsolete by the time you’re reading this, news about Kawhi Leonard’s New Balance endorsement, information about serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, and the fact that it is #NationalFrenchToastDay are all presented to me in the same sidebar, in the same-sized font, in a sequential manner that cannot possibly be good for my cognitive health. But yeah: I’d love it if we made it too.
The 1975 are a group of four longtime pals from Manchester, England: frontman Healy, guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald, and drummer George Daniel. Their bright, emotive, freewheeling sound has drawn comparisons to bands as disparate as INXS and Panic! at the Disco, but five years into their recording career, the band they most remind me of—in spirit if not sound—is Blur. Like Oasis’s great ’90s rivals before them, the 1975 are a Brit-pop band fascinated by a sometimes-indifferent America, Trying To Say Something About Modern Life, occasionally tripping over their own grandeur, but making up for it all by being more ambitious and talented than nearly all of their immediate peers. At least modern life was rubbish 25 years ago too.
Both bands got off to artistically inauspicious starts. The 1975’s hooky, self-titled 2013 debut won them a fan base in the U.K., but it was more surface than depth; songs like “Sex,” “Girls,” and “M.O.N.E.Y.” were catchy, but it wasn’t always clear whether they were critiquing rock stardom or desperately courting it. Their majestic second album cleared up the confusion and revealed them to be a smarter and more imaginative band than most people believed. I offer that assessment before telling you the record’s title, because it’s a doozy: I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. Grandiosity and theatricality are things you have to accept from the 1975; Healy has always been clear that they’re part of the package. Explaining why each of the band’s albums begins with a different interpolation of the band’s titular theme song, Healy recently told Pitchfork, “I love drama and subtext and all that shit.”
Brief Inquiry’s take on the theme song is the band’s most disorienting yet, setting the stage for a record that plumbs the grimmest emotions they’ve ever explored (made palatable with Healy’s characteristic humor and ear for bubblegum melodies). Perhaps not since Frank Ocean sang “stayed up till my phone died” on 2016’s Blonde has a lyricist been able to capture, so pithily, the surreal links between body and machine, technology and emotion, that now dictate ordinary life. “She said that I should have liked it,” Healy sings on the bouncy “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime,” describing a lovers’ quarrel over an underperforming Instagram post. “I said that I only use it sometimes.” (It falls only slightly short of one of my all-time favorite Healy couplets, from the previous album’s new-wavey ballad “A Change of Heart”: “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.”)
The 1975 self-produce their records, which allows them to indulge in a stylistic eclecticism that an outside producer might try to curtail. Their try-anything approach works more often than not, and Brief Inquiry finds them dabbling in new genres: The affecting “Be My Mistake” is a straightforward guitar ballad; “Mine” is a modern jazz standard. I could do without most of “How to Draw/Petrichor,” a glitchy, garage-indebted tune that Healy has said foreshadows the band’s next album. But, even at the risk of filler, this is a band that would always rather expand than contract, and so their throwaway songs still work in service of maximalism.
One of the record’s best songs is the antic, electric “Give Yourself a Try,” which takes the form of a wry letter from Healy to his younger self. “You’ll make a lot of money, and it’s funny,” he sings, “’Cause you’ll move somewhere sunny / And get addicted to drugs / And spend obscene amounts on fucking seeds and beans online.” He sings it quickly, with the rhythm of a setup and a punch line. Because to slow down would be to admit that it’s actually the opposite of funny.
Earlier this year, in the middle of working on the album, Healy checked himself into a rehab facility. For the past five years, on and off, he’d been dealing with a heroin and benzodiazepine addiction. “It wasn’t partying too hard,” he told Rolling Stone. “It was the polarity between connecting with 10,000 people [during concerts] and then going to a hotel room by myself. Mass acceptance and genuine loneliness. It was easier to mediate that with drugs.”
He’s been clean for almost a year now, but Brief Inquiry bears the emotional fingerprints of addiction and recovery. The heavenly “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” sounds like it could have been a love song from the Breakfast Club soundtrack, but it’s actually about the difficulty of kicking a euphoria-inducing drug: “Collapse my veins wearing beautiful shoes,” Healy sings, backed by a choir, “it’s not living if it’s not with you.” Is the song’s ecstatic melody trying to conjure the feeling of a high? Maybe. But Healy is conscious not to glamorize his drug use: “That was the thing that I was always scared of—being an obnoxious celebration of that kind of sickness,” he told Pitchfork. The comedown is the next song, the muted, acoustic-guitar-driven “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” an ode to a woman named Angela, his neighbor in the rehab facility. The song is empathic but still holds her at a distance, as if to suggest the inevitably private struggle of another person’s inner problems. “Oh, we don’t speak,” Healy croons. “She stayed an extra week.” But still: “I see her in my sleep.”
Healy has styled himself as a generational troubadour (“a millennial that baby boomers like,” as he puts it on “Give Yourself a Try”). The downside of such an approach is that sometimes his observations can feel too broad and sweeping, too eager to Say Something, resulting in such occasional missed shots as “I found a gray hair … like context in a modern debate I just took it out.” But across this 15-song album, those misfires are remarkably rare. Brief Inquiry is a vivid and panoramic record about what it means to be alive right now, in all its terror and glory. Its explorations of technology-induced numbness put into relief the human joy of reconnecting to another person, or maybe just oneself.
Of course, Healy could not capture the mood of this moment without acknowledging one of its defining crises, one that has affected him personally: opioid addiction. It has not only had a catastrophic psychic effect on the people of his generation, but it has also, in the past year, silenced some of the musicians who were giving voice to its struggles, most notably Mac Miller and Lil Peep (to whom Healy pays tribute in “Love It If We Made It”). If this crisis has had any effect on pop music, though, it’s only been to drag it down into the tonal dumps: Earlier this year, music critic Craig Jenkins wondered of 2018’s pop offerings, “Why are all the songs of the summer so sad?” So little of the music coming out of this cultural moment can chart the depths of depression and addiction and emerge with anything resembling sonic optimism. And so at such a moment it feels especially powerful for a band like the 1975 to wrestle with its own aversion to sincerity and make a so-open-hearted-it-risks-being-schmaltzy record about choosing life. Healy sees darkness inside and out, but what he offers in the end is hard-won hope, a vision in blazing color. He made it. Maybe we all will.