Consider, for a moment, the electric guitar. Consider a tone so processed and mechanized you’d mistake it for a power tool. Think about what you could convey with that kind of timbre — anger, probably, or youthful frustration, or maybe even wild love — and now think about how The 1975 weaponize it.
Consider how that fuzzy onslaught propels “Give Yourself a Try,” the euphoric first song we heard from the band’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, into a caffeine rush of positivity. As band leader Matty Healy calmly intones about addiction, sex, and being “a Millennial that Baby Boomers like,” that guitar noise is not hawking punkish anger, but self-love. He’s not mad. He’s just seen some shit.
Consider one more thing: what happens eight tracks down the line, when that same sound slows to a humid crawl on the Britpop weeper “Inside Your Mind.” Here, Healy and his band build a carousel of lovelorn melodrama around that buzzing fulcrum — the same one that they, years before, used to usher in an emo barrage on a song called “Sex.” Endless moods. One squalling guitar tone.
This effervescent guitar clamor is only one of the devices The 1975 utilize on the hopscotching Brief Inquiry, their third venture into Millennials’ collective heart of darkness. Except this time, Healy isn’t so young anymore. He’ll be 30 soon, so he’s taken to “getting spiritually enlightened at 29” and dropping way too much cash on coffee and records — but hey, it beats the harder stuff. He knows that side of it, too.
Healy offers up “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” as a musing on his own opiate addiction, for which he sought treatment last year. As there’s no shortage of rock and roll songs about heroin, “It’s Not Living” instead glows like a liquid pop Lite-Brite, glittering with keyboards instead of stadium guitars. Healy treats his own experience carefully, including in interviews, unequivocally calling drug abuse “bullshit” and lowering his sunglasses for emphasis when talking to MTV News last month.
While much of the album’s lead-up focused on his struggle with substances, when it arrived, Brief Inquiry revealed itself to be even weirder. There’s a song called “The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme” and a funk-saturated examination of irony. Key moments during “Surrounded By Heads and Bodies” and “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” scream by-the-books British rock (namely Radiohead). And then Healy will hop on a vocoder-drenched mic or rhyme over the late Roy Hargrove’s horns and you’ll remember you’re dealing with a polyglot.
Brief Inquiry, while not being especially brief (at 58 minutes), is certainly very online. An actual computer speaks the robot love song’s lyrics. Endlessly debated single “Love It If We Made It” flicks through world-burning headlines like a thumb on a phone screen. Healy’s earnestness makes a line like “you text that boy sometimes” impossibly endearing. But even as the album maintains its ambitions, quieter acoustic moments punctuate its tech-addled brain. It’s a real document of being alive in 2018. We’re scared of breaking our phones. We’d also love to be so unburdened.