The 1975, “Notes on a Conditional Form”

The 1975
Notes on a Conditional Form

The run-up to the release date for Notes on a Conditional Form, the fourth album from The 1975, lasted ten months (that’s since the release of the first song; its existence and title were announced even earlier) and consisted of eight pre-release singles. Its cover art was changed at least three times, and it has had five release dates that I’m aware of. At twenty-two songs totaling eighty minutes, it has the defiant sprawl of a late-’90s release from No Limit Records.

This all suggests a deeply troubled, bloated album lacking a clear direction. And Notes on a Conditional Form is that—deeply troubled, bloated, lacking a clear direction, and frequently brilliant. It’s the sort of intrinsically flawed, undisciplined record that inspires a million online debates about what its tracklist actually should have looked like, but never garners any consensus. It’s a body of work that both demands an editor and defies editing; in any form, this is a feisty, restless album with no interest in tempering its indulgences. 

This means instrumentals (no fewer than three of them). It means a five-minute Greta Thunberg speech about climate change. It means blistering rage-punk (“People”); jittery electronica (“Yeah I Know”); shimmering, sunny ’80s nostalgia (“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”); ambling Southern rock (“Roadkill”); pitched-up vocals that could have punctuated a mid-2000s Dipset single (“Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)”); and AutoTune-slathered, 22, A Million–style piano ballads (“Don’t Worry”). It means bromance torch songs and boner references and a guest appearance from Matty Healy’s dad.

The opening pair of “The 1975” and “People” suggests a political agenda. Notes isn’t quite that calculated, though—at least not in any sustained way. Healy’s social commentary ceases nearly as abruptly as it begins, with the album shifting its focus to anxiety with “Frail State of Mind” (the pre-quarantine single that begins, “Go outside? Seems unlikely”), social interactions and sobriety with “The Birthday Party,” and ultimately, most frequently, romance. He can be an incisive, colorful lyricist, but he rarely retains his focus for more than a song or two at a time.

Notes is already exceedingly polarizing, prompting both sides to dig their heels in; The 1975’s devotees will claim that they sound better than ever, and skeptics will say, yeah, they’ve always gone too far, but this time they really overdid it. You may find the blindingly earnest “Guys” and the “I Believe I Can Fly”–ass choral melody of “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied” to be cloying, or you may think they’re a natural progression for a band unafraid to embrace cheese. 

Neither side is wrong, exactly. If you’ve read this far and have an idea of what you will think of this album, I can assure you that you are definitely going to feel that way, and very strongly, too. Notes on a Conditional Form is an explosion of ideas—some bad, but many good, all worth getting lost in for at least a short while.


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