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A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – the modern day love letter from The 1975

The band’s third and (sort of) final installment is one of this year’s most important albums

The quirky Manchester quartet is back with their long awaited third album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. As we’ve covered previously, The 1975 built up the release of this album with lots cryptic posts on social media and finally we have gotten to hear what those have been all about – and it was well worth the wait. A Brief Inquiry is a statement piece, if you will, and The 1975 is not shy about tackling the relevant issues and making their point. Throughout these 16 songs, the band covers gun policy, drug addiction, mental health issues, today’s political climate, infidelity in relationships, and, of course, growing up as millennials and living in the modern, digital world. There’s an extra layer of meaning, emotion and messaging that the band is trying – and succeeding – to get across, and it’s all tied together by this idea of being connected to the Internet.

A Brief Inquiry kicks off with a track familiar to long-time fans, “The 1975″. This song has made an appearance at the beginning of each of The 1975’s albums so far and they have re-mastered it with each one, thus setting the tone and giving listeners an idea of what to expect throughout the rest of the album. They use this song to continue reinventing themselves and on this album they’ve done it once again. On A Brief Inquiry, the song is contradictory in that the instrumental base is stripped down to a very simple, slow piano, while the vocals are autotuned, giving the song an electronic and robotic vibe – almost inhuman. We will see this theme of what it means to be human and how the digital world can make us inhuman throughout the rest of the album.

After they set the scene, the album continues with two of the singles we already know and love, “Give Yourself A Try” and “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME.” These upbeat tracks slyly pull us in and introduce us to the album’s concept. “Give Yourself A Try” is the punchy diary of lead singer Matty Healy’s thoughts on growing older and the lessons he has learned throughout his life, and he comes out with one important piece of advice despite all the struggles – give yourself a try. Catchy pop tune “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” explores the concept of infidelity in a relationship and how social media and online interactions can contribute to these problems.

Some fans will recognize the next track, “How to Draw/Petrichor,” as a bonus track from the I Like It When You Sleep album. This one has also been remastered to fit the theme of this album and combined with its part two, “Petrichor.” “Petrichor” transforms into a faster electronic beat and explores the process of getting clean. Healy has spoken openly about the fact that he checked himself into a rehab center in Barbados after realizing he needed to do something about his heroin addiction. The distorted vocals throughout the song add a sense of pain and urgency to the lyrics, especially as he sings about what he had to do in rehab: “Write a letter to your future self who won’t change” and as he tells listeners “Don’t let the internet ruin your time.” Healy will continue to be vulnerable and honest with listeners about his heroin addiction and rehab experience later in the album with single “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” and ballad “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies.”

The album also boasts some hard-hitting political statements. “Love It If We Made It” – another previously released single – bowls right in with highly-charged vocabulary before making the observation that in a world where we have access to everything online, we are still not able to find truth because so many people bend it to use for their own gains – and the internet only helps spread this false information. The chorus, “I’d love it if we made it” represents hope among all the problems in modern society that the verses bring up. “I Like America & America Likes Me” is an electronic-heavy cry for change in the modern world. It directly addresses the issue of gun violence in the US and the fact that we are still having a crazy amount of mass shootings and yet nothing is being done about it. At the same time, it tackles the mental health struggles a lot of young people are going through, which are at least partially caused by the violent world we live in. The chorus “Would you please listen?” is a cry for help. This fast-paced song speaks to so many ideas and has so much going on that it’s almost hard to keep up with it, much like the minds and lives of young people today.

“Sincerity is Scary” addresses the anxiety and insecurities people have about being open and vulnerable. It is an intelligent commentary on our tendency to be ironic and sarcastic to mask who we truly are, and by doing this we make ourselves inhuman. Healy’s emotional and clever lyrics tell us here that to be human is to be truly vulnerable and sincere, but that is the thing that most people are scared of because they’re afraid to be judged. There’s a facade that we tend to put up, especially online, that we think protects us from the outside world but in reality it’s only hurting ourselves and the people around us, which in turn damages our relationships.

Arguably one of the most important tracks on the album,“The Man Who Married A Robot/Love Theme” is a spoken word poem narrated by the British male voice of Siri. The poem discusses the Internet as if it were a real person and it is evident that our protagonist, SnowflakeSmasher86, seems oblivious to the fact that it actually isn’t one. The irony lies in the fact that we, of course, know that the Internet is not human and the relationship, or the marriage, outlined here seems ridiculous to us – but if we’re honest with ourselves and we examine our own behavior, we have a lot more in common with SnowflakeSmasher86 than we’d like to admit. Clearly the Internet is his only companion, and eventually he dies alone, with the last line being “You can go on his Facebook” – signaling that his Facebook page was the only mark he left on the world and that while each of us dies, the Internet never dies. It’s a sad and terrifying idea, but if we’re not careful, we could be living that reality.

Sprinkled amongst the chaotic synths and punchy guitars of the other tracks, ballads “Be My Mistake”, “Inside Your Mind”, and “Mine” slow things down and focus on the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships. They each explore different aspects of them, with classy, jazzy tune “Mine” referring to a growing trend among millennials – that people don’t need to be married in order to feel fully committed to someone.

“I Couldn’t Be More In Love” is an emotional song about Healy’s relationship with the band’s fans. In the opening line, “At the best of times I’m lonely in my mind” he is honest with us, saying that even though he loves the fans and he is living a dream, he still feels genuine loneliness and sometimes struggles to cope. This is arguably Healy’s strongest vocal performance on the album, as we feel the raw emotion when he sings the chorus: “What about these feelings I’ve got.” Healy later spoke about it in interviews and revealed that this was recorded the day before he left for rehab – resulting in the raw, unfiltered emotion we hear in his voice.

A Brief Inquiry goes out strong with “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes).” This track is a cinematic beacon of hope after an album that just described so many issues present in today’s society. It addresses the effects of suicidal thoughts, but also makes it known that those thoughts and feelings are temporary. Throughout every single line in this song, Healy affirms and chooses life, especially when he sings things like “there’s no point in buying concrete shoes” and “if you can’t survive, just try.” The track succeeds in letting listeners know that they aren’t alone even when they feel like they are and urges them to choose life, as well.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is one of the most intelligent albums that I have ever listened to. The songs fit together perfectly and they each earn their place in this lineup, driving home a point every time. The lyrics are poetic and are cleverly written. Healy’s vocals are as raw as ever on some tracks and perfectly doctored up to add meaning to others. The commentary on the state of today’s society is well-placed and insightfully expressed. To make a bold statement, this album is exactly the voice that this generation needs. I took away so many lessons and ideas from this album, probably the most important of which is that if we want to combat the destructive tendencies that the digital age has us leaning towards, we need to put down our electronic devices, get outside, and get vulnerable with each other. We need to find ways to become human again in a world that sometimes looks down upon and discourages sincerity and vulnerability. Listening to and fully digesting the ideas in this album is a good place to start. In a way, this masterpiece of an album is The 1975 living out their own advice and ideas laid out in “Sincerity Is Scary.” They have taken off their masks and have been honest with us about their thoughts and struggles throughout this entire album. They are setting an example for the rest of us to live by, and I’d say it’s a good one. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is one of the most important albums of the year, and I can’t wait to see what they follow it up with in Notes on a Conditional Form, which is due out next year.

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