A strange thing has happened in the last month or three. I like the 1975. Y’know, the band who flounce in school-prom blazers, who do great big pillar-box light shows and make young girls weep at the twist of a brogue. The band that is uncool as fuck. I like ‘em. It’s not adoration, and probably never will be. But if I was 16 or 17 I might think they’re the most sacred group going. Screw the eyeroll – they’re the U2 of Snapchat users.
This has occurred because I listened to their third LP, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, in full. Prior to that, I hadn’t cared for their candy cane singles or Tim Burton hair. No songs jumped out as winners. Even ‘Chocolate’, the breakout hit, got on my nerves. What, I asked myself, is with that accent? Why are they scared of being abrasive? Even their rockers sound like ballads. I knew teenagers love them, and any arena singalongs tend to be word-perfect. But I never connected. You might say I had a thumbed nose, turned to better acts with a richer sense of what life is like for people with their own electricity bill. Depression, materialism and heartache don’t resonate as much when you’re picking up cigarette ends from your pebble garden and consider that a good day.
Perhaps it was the drama I didn’t like – the naked, near-present anthem-ism. I assumed the music press had written them off too. Yet, on the release of A Brief Inquiry…, I was surprised to find that the 1975 were being talked about in new ways. Critics were giving them a careful slow-clap. Whether it was Pitchfork calling them “a thrillingly unreasonable band for unreasonable times,” or DIY rhapsodising the album as “a soundtrack and a guide” through 2018 and the shit that stuck to it, most reviews mentioned a newfound maturity. Should I care? I decided I should. In December, I stuck the record on.
What followed wasn’t a faultless experience, but one that made me smile into my plate of biscuits. On my sofa, enshrouded in a snowflake blanket – potentially fitting if you make fun of 1975 fans – I played A Brief Inquiry… front to back. It’s good, not great, but hardly average. At the moments in which it soars, like on ‘How To Draw’ and the sunburst hook of ‘Love It If We Made It’, the album is nearly miraculous. Clustered into its 58 minutes are issues of anxiety, heroin, vanity, self-harm with the internet, and disappointment in Kanye West. Singer Matty Healy does have charisma. He’s honest about his fears, but generous enough to recognise that many of them are ours. Whenever a lyric strives to be profound, he undercuts it. We all do this. It’s the universal irony we employ to survive a world no-one understands.
Like few artists, Healy expresses the rapid gear changes of hating the way things are and not having a clue how to fix them. ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ might be the juiciest paean to the polemics of our time I heard all year. It admits the lack of reservation we show on message boards, more so than to family and friends, while fearing we’re being too much. “Your memories are sceneries, for things you said but never really meant”? Uhuh. I get that.
Some songs I don’t care for at all – ‘Be My Mistake’, ‘It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You’, the maudlin ‘Mine’ with its department store jazz. Stepping back, though, I was impressed. It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t keep our reservations up like a pair of stockings in barbed wire. Let them down. Hang around in music and opinions you’ve written off. You might enjoy yourself more.
Around the same time, in the weltering heat of a conservatory radiator, I was speaking to my mother in the North East of England. She is a person I, frankly, don’t count amongst my musical shepherds. She stopped listening to new acts around the time Bowie quit cocaine – little coincidence there. But there we were, sitting, drinking tea, and I decided to play Neil Young’s Harvest Moon on my laptop. Her ears perked up. “Oh, it’s ‘Old Man’,” she said. “I love that, what a classic.”
“No,” I replied, ready to shake my head, “this is from another album. Neil wrote it 20 years later.”
“It is. Same sound. Listen. I listened to it in the 70s.”
“Mum, it isn’t. Jesus. I need to buy a flow chart for you so you can see what happened after 1992. It’ll be big, but I’ve been saving.”
“Josh, for Christ’s sake, it is ‘Old Man’ and I’m not taking any other answer!”
In a rare display of servitude, I did her courtesy of shutting up, listening, and – you know what? – she was almost right. The arrangements opened up and called to the earlier material that defined Young’s career. Later, I discovered he recorded Harvest Moon with many of the same musicians from Harvest; that echoes had, consciously or not, found their voice in a record two decades later. ‘Old Man’ really does sound like ‘You And Me’. The chord progressions on both songs whinny to each other like neighbouring field ponies. Damn.
And fuck me. Fuck me for being arrogant. Fuck you, too. There could be goldmines you’re walking over, metal detector dropped because you’re clamping your ears shut.