The 1975 are back, with their highly anticipated fourth studio album. What are my thoughts?
Notes On A Conditional Form is a frustrating album. I hated it on first listening, I was so disappointed. It felt bloated and over indulgent, the prominence and frequency of instrumentals ground the pace of the album down. The sheer volume of singles released prior to the album dropping left very few tracks (despite the album having 22 of them!) that felt new and got me excited.
Whilst, upon listening to the album in its entirety at least two more times, I still feel largely the same, my review is definitely going to be less scathing. Initially I said, repeatedly, that I HATED the album. I would disagree with that conclusion now, I think it was an opinion drawn out of frustration more than anything else, because, ultimately, this album to me is incredibly frustrating.
The opening two tracks, The 1975 and People are powerful. The contrast between Thunberg’s calm but passionate delivery and Healy’s aggressive, practically screaming vocals really drew me in as a listener. Their message, one of rebellion, is the same, yet the execution could not be further apart. It’s brilliant. Not to mention that People is probably one of, if not, my favourite The 1975 songs.
"An Incredible Expression of Healy's Anxieties"
Following this we have our first, of many, instrumentals. The End (Music For Cars) is fine, it sounds very beautiful at times, even, and highlights the band’s range. It’s then followed by Frail State of Mind, which is one of my favourite songs on the album, it’s an incredible expression of Healy’s anxieties and sounds so good. The next two tracks, Streaming and The Birthday Party flow seamlessly into one another, but whilst this is cool, I can’t help but question the necessity of Streaming other than a chance to show off. It’s just another track and slows the pace of an album down and feels like filler in an incredibly lengthy album.
The next 6 tracks are entirely forgettable. Yeah I Know isn’t bad, its perfectly fine but I can’t help but question its placement in the album. Sonically it sounds far closer to Frail State of Mind than The Birthday Party or Then Because She Goes, and it is tooooo long. It feels like a track that should’ve been no more than two minutes long but ends up clocking in at over 4. Then Because She Goes, Roadkill and You & Me Together Song all suffer, for me at least, from one common thing: use of auto-tune. Now, auto-tune is not inherently a bad thing, and extensive use of it is definitely not new to the 1975, Frail State of Mind, I Like America & America likes me are shining examples of how well the software can be used, and have been used by Healy in the past. However, for me, it is far too prominent in Healy’s vocals in these songs. His vocals feel too airy and more generic as a result which ultimately makes the songs feel same. Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America just isn’t for me. I doesn’t do anything for me but I understand that is entirely my personal opinion. It’s just a bit meh.
This, however, is then followed by a very strong stretch of tracks: Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied, Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy), Shiny Collarbone and If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know). We all know Too Shy is a bop, not much to add here (but I still maintain the live version is better, again auto tune too prominent in the studio version for me here but is far less offensive than earlier imo). Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied is good, the isolated choral vocals are chilling at the beginning and Healy’s use of auto tune here feels experimental and sounds incredibly interesting. The sound of the guitar on this track and Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) is so cool, and a really interesting piece of production. Shiny Collarbone is very interesting sonically, its sampling of Cutty Ranks, a 90’s reggae artist, and its garage inspired sound creates for a surprising sound, that is definitely welcome on this eclectic album.
"At Least It's Short"
The next 6 tracks, and the final 6, are another lull in the album for me. Playing On My Mind is forgettable, Having No Head ( whilst a cool little nod to LostMyHead off the bands second album) is too damn long, clocking in at over 6 minutes. What Should I Say, is again not for me. I can appreciate it definitely has an interesting groove at points but it’s just not my musical preference. Bagsy Not In Net is forgettable, at least it’s short, however. Don’t Worry, features a very beautiful piano part played by Healy’s father but I dislike, immensely, the vocal effect Healy uses. I just don’t like the sound of the vocals, at all. Guys, the final track, thematically, is perhaps a prefect ending. An extremely nostalgic and touching tribute from Healy to his best mates. I just don’t like the sound, again likely due to the auto-tune employed on the track that makes Healy’s vocals sound way too floaty and generic.
Overall, the album isn’t bad. It certainly has some tracks that I love and I can 100% understand why someone would really enjoy the album as a whole, it just isn’t for me. I maintain the fact it is too long, and has an air of self-indulgence. But it is undeniable that this band is talented, and showcases this on this album, I just don’t *personally* like the outcome. I think they tried a lot of interesting things on this album, I just don’t think they succeeded in bending and warping genre as well as some may claim. This album feels very hot and cold, a bold attempt that I don’t think quite worked out. 4.5/10.
But my mind may be changed. If you loved the album let me know why! I would love to discuss it with people and potentially have my opinion changed. I did pre-order a vinyl copy so I need some motivation to play it… but the very beautiful packaging will always be something nice to look at if not.