The 1975 have never been a band to pigeonhole themselves. For them, the rule has always been “go big or go home” – whether that stands for the generous tracklists of their albums, their record titles or the vastness of topics their musical endeavours have touched on so far. In a surprising turn of events, however, the band’s latest release, the concise ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ sees the group throw out the mission of tapping into everything, everywhere, all at once. Romantic, heartfelt, ecstatic and slow and calm in its best moments, the 11-track-strong record brings a halt to frontman Matty Healy’s usually erratic lyricism and puts one theme into the centre of attention – love.
In the past, The 1975 have made a name for themselves as the band daring to take the one further step. Writing songs about meaningless hook-ups, Donald Trump’s tweets, political destruction in the age of social media, and featuring the climate activist Greta Thunberg, the four-piece has always strived for greatness and grandeur. All of that is still deeply ingrained in their newest release, but whereas their previous records played into the band’s taste for delicious excess, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ pulls them down to the ground and the fundamentals they are most loved for: addictive guitars, electric drums, saccharine saxophones, heart-wrenching violins and earworm-like hooks.
This new route for The 1975 kicks right off with their as always self-titled opening track, a four-minute long stand-out explosion of layered orchestral instruments and electrifying pianos, mixed with Healy’s sugary vocals and topped off with lyrical queries like, “I’m feeling apathetic after scrolling through hell / I think I’ve got a boner, but I can’t really tell” and, “You’re making an aesthetic out of not doing well and mining all the bits of you you think you can sell”, and a to-die-for chorus of, “I’m sorry if you’re livin’ and you’re seventeen”. What comes after that is the album’s probably most radio- and festival-friendly hit ‘Happiness’, a glistening number that could remind the one or another OG fan of the band’s early beginnings and their debut record from back in 2013.
Throughout the record, we hear 33-year-old Healy repeatedly suggesting that maybe, just maybe, human connection is what will actually save us from the loneliness of the digital age. Whether that is in the cheesy, almost cliché-like ‘I’m in Love With You’, the sweet ‘All I Need To Hear’ and the honest ‘Human Too’, which have singer Healy display one of his best vocal performances to date, or the surprise Christmas song ‘Wintering’. It’s in those quieter moments that the Manchester-born The 1975 really get to show who they truly are and why they are known to be named as one of the most important and influential bands of our time.
However, once the rhythm picks up and we crash into lofty tracks like the dancey ‘Oh Caroline’, which could be a hit now the same as 40 years ago, the loving ‘About You’, also known as the ‘Robbers’ of the band’s fifth studio album, and the refreshing closing track ‘When We Are Together’, we enter the realms of classic 1975-bops. From some gorgeous guitar work from lead guitarist Adam Hann, whose wife Carly Holt compliments Healy in a delicate duet on ‘About You’, to smooth synths and perfectly crafted choruses, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ shines in whichever way you look at it. This is also thanks to the slight hint of nostalgia betted into many of the record’s hits, stemming from the talented fingers of serial collaborator and pop heavyweight Jack Antonoff, known for his collaborations with Taylor Swift, Lorde and Lana Del Rey, and his own band Bleachers. Having ditched the self-produced route of their previous work in favour of earning some of that magic of the pop industry’s now go-to producer, it seems that The 1975 happily leaned into Antonoff’s helping hands and the freedom they offered them.
Despite the group’s all too well-known past shenanigans and lead singer Healy’s comical comeback to Twitter and all the chaos that comes with it (plus a definite future end to the fun, with the bio reading “deleted once I’m verified”), it seems that two years after the release of their most enigmatic and sprawling long-player to date, The 1975 have come to a place of clarity and hopefulness, away from their usual bombast and restlessness. Still as lofty, humorous, tongue-in-cheek as we all know and love them, but with a new layer of silent calm and perfected sincerity, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ has the indie giants step into new territory. Their upcoming tour may be smugly titled ‘The 1975: At Their Very Best’, but with this stunning fifth record, they might just actually be.
Written by Laura Weingrill // photography by Samuel Bradley