British rockers the 1975 released their third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, on Friday, and there is a lot here to process. It’s a genre-hopping document that tackles addiction, guilt, love, and, most importantly, being extremely online. Our own Lindsay Zoladz sung its praises on Thursday, and we’ve surveyed the rest of the Ringer staff to see where they stand on the album, the band, and how it relates to this moment.
1. What is your tweet-length review of A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships?
Rob Harvilla: #fitter #happier #more #productive
Danny Chau: I used all 280 characters for this one, baby:
The new 1975 album has:— Danny Chau (@dannychau) November 26, 2018
- My favorite song of the year
- One song that's equal parts Jon Hopkins, Leyland Kirby, and Backstreet Boys
- One song that could've been written for Juice WRLD
- Two songs that ought to be played on KOST 103.5 for the next three decades
Micah Peters: Damn, the internet really does poison one’s sense of self.
Matt James: A band I used to actively dislike just put out one of my favorite albums of the year. As fearless and uncompromising as ever, the 1975 have evolved from imitators to innovators.
Cory McConnell: “Yes. I love you very, very, very, very, very, very much. I am your best friend. In fact, I love you so much that I never, ever want us to be apart ever again ever.”
2. What is your favorite song on the album?
Chau: “Love It If We Made It.” It’s the song of the year.
Harvilla: “Love It If We Made It” took a while to kick in for me, so I got impatient and listened to it a bunch more times, and now it has incapacitated me, which IIRC is similar to my first experience with pot brownies.
McConnell: Right now, it’s “Love It If We Made It.” It’s a perfect song that’s come at exactly the right time. Ask me in a year, and it might be different. “Mine” is stunning, even if I’m only starting to get used to the idea that it’s a 1975 song.
James: If it wasn’t for “Love It If We Made It,” our staff might have wildly different answers to this question.
Peters: I think I’ll listen to “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” until I hate it, but “Sincerity Is Scary”—which is also deceptively upbeat—might haunt me the longest.
3. What is the most surprising stylistic choice here?
Harvilla: The jazzy piano ballad “Mine,” which is like if Lady Gaga had snuck a track from her normcore duets album with Tony Bennett onto Artpop. This is not a complaint.
McConnell: “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” sounds like The Bends mixed with Sigur Rós. It’s a jaw-dropping conclusion to an already bombastic album. While not as sonically far removed from their previous output than “I Like America & America Likes Me,” or “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime,” this track’s embrace of titanic ’90s Britpop feels more unexpected to me.
James: My jaw hit the floor at 2:51 of “How to Draw / Petrichor.” Not only did they take a wildly successful electronic detour, but they chose to showcase it at the front of the album rather than safely slipping it into the back half of the tracklist. I can hear the influence of fellow Englishmen Jon Hopkins and Jamie xx in the controlled chaos of this track. It’s a disorienting, whirring cloud of crunchy technology whose own momentum keeps threatening to pull itself apart. And yet impossibly, it settles back into itself. I love this song.
Chau: We’ve gotten more than our fair share of choral augmentation on 1975 records, but the band fully relished the Soulquarians sound on “Sincerity Is Scary,” with Roy Hargrove on trumpet, and a flowing melody that could easily have been a Musiq Soulchild track in another timeline. And they made it a single, no less.
Peters: I gotta say, I wasn’t expecting a traditional jazz record like “Mine” to be hiding 13 songs into this album.
4. Is there anything that flat-out doesn’t work on the album?
Peters: “I Like America & America Likes Me” should’ve been a Trippie Redd song. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t still work—the song is about, feels like, and sounds like overstimulation.
Harvilla: The back half is awfully goopy-ballad heavy. These fellas are really desperate to write their own “Never Tear Us Apart,” despite the fact (a) they already wrote “Somebody Else,” which is arguably better, and (b) that’s tough to do without a saxophone.
James: I could do without “Be My Mistake.” It almost works. I don’t think the songwriting is quite strong enough to warrant the spotlight that the minimal production places on it. It’s a dollop of heavy-handed orchestral strings away from being a Damien Rice song
McConnell: “Be My Mistake.” The song is fine, but Matt Healy’s penned far better songs on the subject of infidelity (see the gleefully flippant “Paris,” or fan favorite “Sex”) and this soft, quiet track’s placement in between two absolute stunners in “Love It If We Made It” and “Sincerity is Scary” is a strange choice that puts the brakes on an otherwise stellar A-side.
5. Which lyrics would make for the best merch, à la “Poison me, daddy”?
McConnell: “Love It If We Made It” is loaded with one-liners ripe for silk-screening, but I’m going to go with “Internet, do you love me?” from
“The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme.”
Harvilla: “And why would you believe / You could control how you’re perceived?” doesn’t really fit on a T-shirt, which on the other hand would be very on-brand; “And getting STDs at 27 really isn’t the vibe” has excellent font possibilities.
James: I’d go with one of these impactful refrains: “GIVE YOURSELF A TRY” or “BELIEVE, AND SAY SOMETHING.”
Chau: Put “@SnowflakeSmasher86” on a dad hat.
Peters: The other extremely relatable death wish, “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes).”
6. How do you feel about the Siri-narrated interlude about the lonely man and the internet?
McConnell: Critics have pointed to this as the album’s “Fitter Happier,” and that tracks. The track is a signpost, spelling out some of the more overt criticisms of the internet age in a way that might seem too on-the-nose in a sung format. It’s likely going to be one that people skip after their first listen, but I support its inclusion.
James: It’s a pretty strange choice! It kills the album’s momentum a bit. Honestly, I’m going to skip this track most of the time. I really appreciate that the 1975 try on a lot of different hats on this album, so if something doesn’t quite fit, I’m quick to excuse them for it. Please, just keep giving me all your weirdness, the 1975.
Peters: [Powers off phone with hammer.]
Harvilla: #fond #but #not #in #love
Chau: I don’t want to talk about it. Ask me on Facebook some other time. But not now, and definitely not tomorrow.
7. Explain to me this band’s appeal. How would you sell the 1975 to someone who’s been reluctant to get into them?
Peters: If you are confused, mortified, and yet strangely disaffected by a lot of the media you consume and would like some shimmering music that articulates the specific feeling of receiving a text that asks you to explain a tweet, this is for you.
James: I’ve been telling people about how I hated this band at the start of 2018. I thought they were overly dramatic and affected panderers who ripped off ’80s songs and relied on a heartthrob frontman to appeal to a Hot Topic crowd. The new album is fantastic. Yes, they can be “a bit much,” but if you can get past that, this band is writing and producing incredible songs that display an almost impossible level of versatility. Where I used to see disingenuousness, I now see bold honesty. I don’t know the degree to which I was right or wrong about this band in the past but I feel confident that I’m right about them now.
McConnell: It wasn’t until I heard their 2013 song “Me” that I thought that this band was really special. The downtempo rumination on death, guilt, and family set to swelling synth pads, and yes, even some tasteful sax, showed huge potential for a band that many thought of as cookie-cutter pop-punkers at the time. It’s still one of their most vital songs.
Harvilla: A postmodern boy band reveling in the grim fact the only real One Direction is toward the grave. The hedonistic melodic genius of top-shelf modern pop + the over-intellectual self-loathing of people who claim to hate modern pop. Duran Duran if Twitter had existed in 1982. Father John Misty if there were four of them and they worshipped INXS instead of Randy Newman. Ah, shit, my hypothetical reluctant person just set himself on fire.
Chau: Image isn’t everything, and for the 1975, as it is with Father John Misty, it’s something that can be weaponized. It’s a secondary mode of communication between artist and audience. The obnoxious, self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing avatar they erect front and center is a Trojan horse meant to be destroyed. Give the new album a hate listen (which is, itself, an act of interlocking irony and sincerity not far removed from the band’s whole deal in the first place). Don’t be surprised if a few salient moments on the album worm their way into your everyday.
8. Where does the 1975 fit into the current rock pantheon? Are they even a rock band? Does that matter?
Harvilla: They are every bit as much a rock band as, say, Twenty One Pilots, which is to say they’re definitely a rock band in terms of attitude and pompousness but only vaguely in terms of how they actually sound, which is of course the only consistently interesting sort of rock band at this point. Simpler answer: It beats the hell outta Greta Van Fleet.
James: They seem to defy classification at the moment. The most exciting thing about this band is that I could see them successfully going in so many different musical directions from here.
McConnell: Healy has said they’re only nominally a rock band, and the 1975 have smartly adapted the form to what pop music is now. The Auto-Tune rants, Chance the Rapper–like upright piano, tropical-house, and glitchy electronica found here are a fascinating answer to the question of what rock bands can or should be in 2018.
Peters: I’m leaning toward “doesn’t matter.” I mean if they are a rock band, I’m not sure which subgenre they’d belong to, and pop also fails to encompass all the things the 1975 succeeds at. I think I’ll call it ... “screengaze”? Is that awful?
9. What, if anything, does A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships say about online relationships? Is this the millennial OK Computer?
Chau: Sincerity is, indeed, scary.
Harvilla: The main revelation here is that prolonged exposure to Online leaves us so neurotic and self-obsessed that the only relationship we care about now is between our real self and our idealized internet self. Which checks out! A secondary revelation is that drugs certainly don’t help anything, which also checks out. Also, OK Computer is the millennial OK Computer.
James: I think it could definitely be the Gen Z OK Computer to a good number of people. Both albums convey a deep distrust of technology but the comparison is bigger than that to me. I remember how I felt (in a supermarket parking lot in my mom’s minivan at age 13) listening to OK Computer for the first time. I found an album to match my teenage cynicism and take me to sonic places I’d never been before. It was inspirational. It screamed and whispered. It told me I wasn’t alone and it offered hope. This 1975 album will do the same for a lot of kids who have the misfortune of coming of age in present-day America. Let me just be very clear, though, and plainly state that OK Computer is better.
McConnell: Radiohead is notorious for keeping a judgmental distance, a skepticism of interviews and media, and were certainly not above giving the occasional middle finger to their own fans. That’s just about the opposite of the 1975’s ethos, and a big reason their fan base is as large and as young as it is. This album at its most sardonic never slips into the near-nihilism of “Exit Music” or “No Surprises.” I don’t know that the 1975 have the answer to the ways in which online relationships have changed us, but their sense of empathy, hope, and willingness to address societal issues on a personal level offer a more nuanced take on our modern moment than you’ll find elsewhere in pop this year.
Peters: That the now-ancient Twitter joke isn’t 100 percent wrong—our mental and physical well-being might actually be better served by putting down our phones and living in the moment, but, you know, our phones aren’t going anywhere.
10. Is this the perfect album for this moment?
Harvilla: It’s great, which is good, and it is, and that’s terrible.
James: Whatever music inspires you through dark times is perfect for this “moment.” This album will fit the bill for a lot of people. It is inextricably tethered to this particular moment in time and I think that often boosts an album’s legacy.
Chau: A Brief Inquiry is a perfect memorial of this moment, a time capsule reflective of modern attitudes, as Lindsay suggests in her review. But that seems like another thing entirely. No, the perfect album for this moment, to me, is Irving Teibel’s Environments 1, which consists of two field recordings made in the late 1960s: one of a seashore’s ebb and flow (righteously titled “The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore”) and the other of birds chirping for over 30 minutes (titled “Optimum Aviary”). A perfect album for this moment would have to transport me somewhere else. Let the waters take me where they may, or let the birds have at me like they had Prometheus.
Peters: Broadly, A Brief Inquiry sounds like when your brain is replaced by that thing that happens when a dog gets off the leash and yaps through a flock of pigeons, so yes.