Image: Samuel Bradley.
The 1975 have a penchant for releasing albums that feel perfectly timed. Notes on a Conditional Form arrived in early 2020 just as the world was going into lockdown with biting lyricism such as “Go outside? Seems unlikely,” and “I don’t like going outside bring me everything here.” Now, on their fifth studio album, Being Funny In a Foreign Language, the four-piece have delivered a succinctly curated body of work that centres itself around themes of finding happiness through love and appreciation, something we all crave in 2022.
Opening with the bands traditional self-titled track, frontman Matty Healy finds a sense of accountability, recalling on his own youthful flaws. With this iteration of The 1975, the five-piece pivot away from their usual formula of reworking the same composition. Instead, an orchestral arrangement unfurls beneath Healy’s lulling vocals, introducing us to a body of work that feels like a return home but also a leap forward for the British outfit. The album immediately pivots towards 80’s synth-pop-meets-funk-inspired sonics on Happiness, calling back to the lusciously textural soundscapes of their 2016 album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It. Recorded live, there’s an infectious energy laced throughout. Sensational horn work and jazz-leaning percussion run wild, with call and response lines creating an organic sense of camaraderie. The uplifting cut boasts all the makings of a pop mega hit, with Healy’s full vocal performance crooning atop slap-bass lines.
The nostalgia-fuelled fun continues on Looking For Somebody (To Love), thematically exploring toxic masculinity and the idea of an identity crisis when an ‘ideal’ male is shut down by the woman who caught his eye. Sarcastic vocals narrate somewhat harrowing lyricism, as Healy explores the correlation between violence and misguided male youth. Our first offering from the record was its lead single, Part Of The Band, which serves as a somewhat outlier on the album. Leaning into string arrangements and organic instrumentation, there’s an intimate aura around the song, be that for its pared back instrumentation and production or its non-linear narrative that tinges upon moments of self-crisis. The track is a nice palette refresher coming off two synth-charged songs, with Healy’s mesmerising falsetto floating throughout. He even throws in an Elvis-inspired warble early on.
We’re treated to a sing-a-long anthemic chorus on Oh Caroline, before the euphoric soundscape on I’m In Love With You will leave you floating in the clouds. Both tracks explore the extreme depths of falling in love, with the former documenting an all consuming love, whilst the latter explores shared moments where all you can think about is your feelings for this person. The sincerity of All I Need To Hear proves Healy’s charm as a songwriter. He can dart between moments of self-indulgent, and sometimes pretentious-leaning notes, and follow that up with earnest and introspective lines that cut through it all and resonate on a deeper level. It also showcases the bands dynamically driven prowess. Bittersweet folk-meets-rock melodies Whilst synth-pop is a formidable force for The 1975, they can easily deviate into new sonic territory in a way that unfurls organically and feels necessary, instead of a calculated choice.
Wintering may just be the best modern Christmas song. Serving almost as a family newsletter, Healy captures the somewhat chaotic atmosphere of family returning home for the holidays and gives listeners updates on his own family. Rhythmically driven, the songs acoustic soundscape rolls beneath humourous and conversational lyricism brought to life by Healy’s nonchalant performance. On Human Too, Healy explores the harder sides of fame and facing public backlash whilst also delivering lines of self-critique. He apologises for past mistakes and references previous controversy, but pleads with listeners to remember we’re all human and mistakes are made.
The albums penultimate track, About You, feels like an amalgamation of David Bowie’s Heroes and U2’s With Or Without You, yet still distinctly The 1975. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis lends his talents to the cut, with vocals from Carly Holt, guitarist Adam Hann’s wife. With notes of shoegaze, the tracks somewhat frenzied soundscape booms beneath Healy’s mesmerising vocals, perfectly complimented by Holt’s lulling performance. Closing with When We Are Together, the album ends on a bittersweet note, picking up on the threads of folk sprinkled throughout the record to create a melancholic palette. A striking violin melody cuts through glistening acoustic guitar work, below Healy’s vulnerable vocals as he explores the end of a relationship and the lingering thoughts and emotions for one another. There’s something immensely intimate about this offering, the kind of reliability and story telling lyricism pierces through to create an emotional touchpoint.
The collection of songs calls back to their earlier records and fan-favourite tracks, whilst still pushing forward. Healy is as charming and beguiling as ever, luring us in with his sometimes polished, sometimes effervescent performance, and still delivering lyrics that will rip your heart, make you laugh, maybe even ignite some flames within you. But most importantly, he is still provoking the listener into thought. There is space within the album to incite inner reflection, not just to catch up on what’s been going on in the lives of your favourite synth-pop luminaries. Perfectly curated with an effortless balance, Being Funny In a Foreign Language finds The 1975 at their very best.
Being Funny In a Foreign Language is out now!