Sixteen. Seventeen. Fifteen. Twenty-two. Eleven. (Just eleven.)
The first thing fans of The 1975 will notice about the band’s new album Being Funny in a Foreign Language is that it is (just) 11 tracks long. This is half as long as their sprawling 2020 album Notes on a Conditional Form and a full 26% shorter (thank u, percentagecalculator.net) than the next shortest entry in the band’s catalog, 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
None of these numbers would mean much if they weren’t backed by the irrepressible ambition and audacity of The 1975, which formed among teenaged pals in the suburbs of Manchester, England, in 2002. Since their 2013 self-titled debut, the band have been trying on new styles—from pouty pop, sleek funk-rock and shoegaze to nihilist punk, gospel and electronic music—and over-stuffing their albums with little regard for convention or expectations. This can be a feature or a bug, depending on how you look at it, but one thing is for sure: The 1975’s catalog has some head-scratchers here and there, but they are far outweighed by brilliant moments created by a band who have never been afraid to go big.
With the release of Being Funny, however, The 1975 are reining things in, relatively speaking. There are no extended ambient passages here. No cinematic orchestral interludes. No spoken-word tracks. Just 11 solid and sophisticated pop-rock songs that seem to signal a new, more mature band, as voiced by frontman Matty Healy in “The 1975,” the album’s opening track: “I’m sorry about my 20s, I was learning the ropes / I had a tendency of thinking about it after I spoke.”
No need to apologize, Matty! That was fun back then. Now, with the arrival of Being Funny in a Foreign Language, it’s time to take stock of The 1975’s arc so far. Below is a ranking of all five of their full-lengths, from their embryonic debut to the grown-up new one.
5. Notes on a Conditional Form (2020)
Written on tour, recorded at a bunch of studios across the world, released at the start of the pandemic and never properly toured, Notes on a Conditional Form is The 1975 at their most wide-ranging, adventurous and incoherent, like a pan-genre playlist compiled by four late-twenty-somethings in the early 21st century. Here, the band lean into their interest in dance music, incorporating the syncopated rhythms and soulful vibes of U.K. garage and house music into “Yeah I Know,” “Frail State of Mind,” “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” and “Shiny Collarbones,” which features the voice of Jamaican dancehall singer Cutty Ranks. (These songs are some of the best electronic asides in The 1975’s catalog, and proof that Healy and drummer George Daniel could should start a side project focused on this stuff.) Notes also wanders through Refused-style punk (“People”), shimmering ’90s alt-rock (“Me & You Together Song”), loping twang (“Roadkill”), a song (“Tonight [I Wish I Was Your Boy]”) built on a Temptations sample and the sweetly earnest “Guys,” about being in a band together. This smorgasbord of sounds is interesting, and surely thrilling to big fans, but at 22 tracks long, Notes has more than its share of songs that get lost in the shuffle.
4. Being Funny in a Foreign Language (2022)
It is, of course, difficult to compare an album that has just come out against four that have had years to sink in, but here’s what we know: Being Funny is already being hailed as the band’s “least interesting album to think about, and their easiest to enjoy at face value,” and—finally!—a 1975 album “where every song is good.” Backhanded compliments aside, it is true that these 11 tracks are remarkably cohesive, and they capture a world-class pop-rock group happily exploring their most accessible groove. Songs like “Happiness” and “Oh Caroline” recall the I Like It When You Sleep era, while “About You” and “I’m In Love With You” feel more like The 1975’s more recent sophisti-pop singles. To keep things from getting just a little too polished, “Looking for Somebody to Love” sounds like an irresistible deep cut from the Footloose soundtrack splashed with a hint of noise, “The 1975” (the name of all their opening tracks) features hypnotizing, Steve Reich-ian piano and “Part of the Band” revolves around a cool staccato string arrangement. Being Funny is good. Time will tell just how good.
3. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018)
The 1975’s third album—a sibling to Notes, according to Healy—is anchored by the best set of singles in the band’s catalog, which is saying something. The buzzy pep talk “Give Yourself a Try” feels like hugging an electric fence, while “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” boasts one of the band’s catchiest choruses and the politically and pop-culturally charged “Love It If We Made It” was one of Paste’s picks for the best songs of 2018. In between, The 1975 dabble in whatever they fancy, from skittering electronica (“How to Draw / Petrichor”) to acoustic guitar enveloped in ambient twinkling (“Be My Mistake”), to a robot-voiced spoken-word piece about the internet’s impact on our daily lives—a recurring theme throughout the record. Brief Inquiry’s highs are very high, but it’s third on this list because of three songs near the end (“Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” the jazzy “Mine” and “I Couldn’t Be More In Love”) that don’t make much of an impact and needlessly extend a perfectly good 45-minute album out to an hour.
2. The 1975 (2013)
If Healy and company had skipped all the genre-hopping and experimentation and stuck to making albums like their debut, they’d still be one of the best bands in the world. The 1975 is an effortlessly cool and consistent debut that showcases The 1975’s foundational elements—jittery synth-pop, post-punk, electro-funk, echoes of Third Eye Blind and emo, digital ambivalence, social anxiety, women’s faces in magazines and/or on movie screens—and their apparently bottomless well of undeniable bangers. The album’s singles pop from the speakers, from the big-beat drums of “The City” and the guitar squall that starts “Sex” to the barbed riff that powers “Girls.” Along the way, there are hints of The 1975’s future tendencies in the short instrumental tracks “An Encounter” and “12.” The 1975 isn’t perfect, but it introduces a band with clearly explosive potential.
1. I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (2016)
The 1975’s sophomore release is a mouthful, not only in title, but also in scope. Here, the band really begin to indulge their experimental interests, plopping nearly 10 minutes of groggy, atmospheric instrumentals (“Please Be Naked” into “Lostmyhead”), some gleaming glitch-pop (the title track) and a wobbly gospel epic (“If I Believe You”) into the middle of an incredible run of songs that solidify The 1975’s core sound. There’s aqueous, ’80s-inspired funk (“Love Me,” “Ugh”), midtempo lost-love laments (“Somebody Else,” “A Change of Heart”) and hyperkinetic pop-rock (“She’s American,” “The Sound”), not to mention catalog highlights like “This Must Be My Dream” and “Paris.” The band would continue to grow and develop and push outward, but I Like It When You Sleep found them striking their most effective and appealing balance so far.
Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.
Below, watch The 1975 perform circa 2013 via the Paste archives.