Now that we’ve had some time to digest the latest album from The 1975, I thought it was about time that we started the discussion on everything that makes up Notes on a Conditional Form. I’ve seen several posts online about the album being too long, and at 22 tracks, it’s a warranted argument. Some people have even gone as far as cherry-picking individual songs from the album to make their playlist that better fits their tastes and listening preferences. While I am usually against the idea of skipping tracks during the listening experience that the artist intended, I found myself just as guilty as everyone else with navigating around some of the songs that didn’t seem to flow in the full album. Typically when there is an album that invites so much dissecting to enjoy the material, it’s a clear sign of an imperfect record. The 1975 had a lot going for them leading up to this LP, having already released three bona fide classic records before NOACF. This album is arguably their most polarizing to date, and while some may write off this record as a rare miss, the good far outweighs the bad in their latest artistic statement.
Each of their previous albums have opened with a rearrangement of their self-titled track, but the band elected to enlist the help of climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg’s call to action on the climate emergency talks about the important human element of people being the ones to make the conscious effort to change now. “People” logically follows this call to action with a blazing punch of rock energy in one of the more raucous openers in The 1975’s discography. In the second verse, vocalist Matty Healy sums up the state of the world by wailing, “Wake up, wake up, wake up / We are appalling and we need to stop just watching shit in bed / And I know it sounds boring and we like things that are funny / But we need to get this in our fucking heads / The economy’s a goner, republic’s a banana, ignore it if you wanna.” It’s a great wake up call to his army of followers, but the momentum is quickly lost with a poorly placed instrumental track “The End (Music For Cars).” The pattern of interspersing instrumental tracks or thought-provoking atmospheric songs didn’t bother me as much on the previous records. However, this album could have strongly benefited from some better sequencing.
”Frail State of Mind” follows these songs by picking up some of the lost pace. In some ways, this track may have been a more logical opener to the album as it introduces the listener to Healy’s headspace at the time of the recording. “Streaming” is another instrumental track that doesn’t serve much purpose in the early stages of the record. In the past, The 1975 have placed these breaks in the action to allow for some more reflection on the heavy material that came before it, yet this particular break felt unnecessary at this point in the album.
”The Birthday Party” is another slow-burner of a song that depicts Healy reflecting on the struggles on being faithful in a relationship. The dialogue between Healy and some girls in the second verse showcases his conflicted situation when he describes, “Then I seen the girls and they were all like / “Do you wanna come and get fucked up?” / Listen, I got myself a missus, so there can’t be any kissing / “No, don’t be a fridge, you better wise up, kid / It’s all Adderall now, it doesn’t make you wanna do it.” By inviting us into his struggles with addiction and faithfulness, it shows us he’s just as human as the rest of us.
”Then Because She Goes” is a love song of the most swooning variety, as Healy describes his outpouring of emotions towards his love interest as he sings, “You are mine, I’ve been drowning in you / Reflect your light again / Beautiful, please don’t cry, I love you / When you leave, I cry on the inside.” He continues to describe other types of love on “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” which features a brilliant guest vocal appearance by Phoebe Bridgers. The traded vocals from Healy and Bridgers make for a nice, tender moment on the album, and it turns out to be one of the strongest songs on the album. The harmonies between the two talented vocalists are only accentuated by the beautiful acoustic guitars and well-placed synths filling out the sound.
”Roadkill” is as close to a country song that The 1975 have ever attempted, and it turns out to be pretty well executed from the band. The intricate guitar licks courtesy of Adam Hann plays perfectly off of the bass line of Ross MacDonald, and drummer George Daniel never forces the percussion to overshadow what the band is trying to accomplish on the song.
”Me & You Together Song” follows the aforementioned stylistic departure with a great guitar-driven song that shimmers with 90’s pop-rock vibes. It’s one of the more immediate songs on the record that never tires on repeat listens. The song feels like a theme song of sorts to a TV show about lifelong friends. “I Think There’s Something You Should Know” follows the brilliant song with some vocal effects and programmed beats that serves about the same as the orchestral track to break up the action.
And then there’s the curious case of “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied.” Healy gets into the R&B game with a backing gospel choir in one of the more experimental songs on an album. The second rapped verse doesn’t have any sign of a guest vocalist, so my best guess is that it’s very pitch-shifted Healy. It’s on this verse that he says, “Yes, and if they catch you slippin’ / Trippin’ over you slippin’, they’re not listening / They’re goin’ over how they think you should be livin’ / That’s life, kind of, maybe take some time off / You can’t even deny, love, setting it right / Because if nothing is revealed, everything denied / Learn about yourself before you talk it, they need to see you walk it / You don’t fuck with your poor fans, you meet the rich ones to expand your floor plans.” It’s hard to say if Healy is giving himself this advice, or if it’s coming from his interactions with his fanbase online. Either way, it’s interesting hearing some of his admissions of missteps along the way.
”Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” is a reggae-infused slow jam that finds Healy wondering if he’ll ever get his relationship set on the right course as he sings, “And it’s been playing on my mind / Unfortunately, I’ve been to this place in my life far too many times / Sunday’s nearly over so I’ll just lie awake / Tonight, I wish I was your boy, I / Tonight, I think I fucked it royally.”
The atmospheric track “Shiny Collarbone” serves its purpose of setting the stage for arguably the best song on the entire album in “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know).” This 80’s synth-pop styled track is another one of those songs that you hear for the first time and fall in love with the band all over again. The surefire hook of, “She said, ‘Maybe I would like you better if you took off your clothes’ / I’m not playing with you baby / I think that you should give it a go,” is as close as you can get a perfect pop chorus. The well-placed horns on each of the chorus lines only accelerate the song from reaching its newfound heights.
”Playing On My Mind” brings the pace back down to the singer-songwriter vibes that we have grown accustomed to on the latter stages of a 1975 record. Typically the band reserved most of these acoustic guitar-driven tracks to the ending of each album, so this sequencing comes as little surprise. Healy’s command on these songs is pretty magical, and he remains one of the most charismatic frontmen in our scene today.
The duo of “Having No Head” and “What Should I Say” are ultimately an unnecessary companion to this album, as both tracks stray a little too far from making the album resemble a sort of pattern or cohesiveness. “Bagsy Not In Net,” on the other hand, reminds longtime fans of The 1975 that this is still the same band that they fell in love with in the first place with a swooning orchestral backing Healy’s words that are just faint enough to distinguish.
”Don’t Worry” is a piano-driven song that The 1975 have rarely showcased in their records, since “Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You” from their debut. This song seems like a sequel to their self-titled album closer, and it remains just as powerful. The lyrics haunt with refrains like, “When you wake up and you don’t know what day it is / When the pain flows through your heart and your bones / Don’t worry, darling ’cause I’m here with you / Don’t worry, darling, the sun will shine through.” He realizes that he doesn’t want to be alone, even if his actions leading up to this crisis may have made it impossible to come back from.
The album closes with a tender ballad called “Guys” which is a gushing song about the creation of The 1975 as Healy admits on the chorus, “The moment that you took my hand / Was the best thing that ever happened, yeah / The moment that we started a band / Was the best thing that ever happened / And I wish that we could do it again / It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” As much as Healy may lament the events that lead up to addiction, heartache, and loss, he surely seems to appreciate his bandmates in this moment of clarity in his life.
So what we’re left with is a genre-sprawling effort of 22 songs reflecting a band that is not setting any parameters for what they feel is off-limits for what their band is and can be. There are songs on this album that make sense, and there are others we can live without. However, to cherry-pick what we want from an artist seems like an unfair activity from an outside observer of the band. Instead, we can look at these songs as the full capabilities of an artist who refuses to be pigeon-holed into a single genre or box of what we expect them to be. Notes on a Conditional Form on its surface is an album that plays out like a free fall of emotions, ideas, and experimentation that ends up being more satisfying in more ways than its not. The band has left us with plenty to discuss, evaluate, and most importantly, enjoy from this work of art.