“The Band Of The Decade”, “An absolute… masterpiece”, “Stunning”
With such unbridled accolades you may be wondering: who do these quotes refer to? Tame Impala? Radiohead, surely? Well, you may be as shocked as I was upon viewing an album poster adorning the above during my Black Mirror-like commute towards my money treadmill for the day. They are reserved for none other than The 1975.
I was intrigued. I first encountered The 1975 in a hedonistic state – think along the lines of John’s hedonism – at Bestival during the summer before my first year at university some years ago. I could understand the fervour around them. Their catchy pop sound imbued with adolescent angst through an anti-hero frontman made them marriage material for any label in a self-loathing/glorifying, Instagram filtered era. And it has evidently worked wonders. I thought at the time that they would have a level of success similar to the likes of The Kooks or Razorlight – gain significant mass appeal as the groupie band of the day and then disappear into the nostalgic realms of Spotify. Certainly not deserving of “Band Of The Decade”. How wrong I was. 3 LPs later, they have propelled themselves to global stardom. Such praise made me reconsider, as I thought to myself I must be missing something. So came the time that I decided to listen to a band I gave a vague passing eye to since that hazy afternoon. Then came the second stuttered knockout blow. How could this album receive such unequivocal praise? The pace of my money treadmill slowed significantly as I tried to weigh up the possible reasoning. I listened to the album again and again to the same result. I thought it was terrible.
It’s at this point that I began to consider a wider problem at hand. But, in order to do so, it is worth dissecting A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships within the context of its praise.
The 1975’s third album is undoubtedly their most daring and is born in the aftermath of our anti-hero frontman Matt Healy’s time in rehab for heroin addiction. As the name of the album suggests, it explores the impact of an eternally online world and its effect on our interactions with one another from a close distance, highlighting the absurdity of significance we place upon banal, socially destructive yet ironically labelled social media applications. Now, this is where the wheels on the wagon start to fall off.
The 1975 are by no means the first artist – in any form – to explore the consequences of technology on humanity and the album is by no means a “masterpiece” in its exploration on the matter. Radiohead’s aptly-named OK Computer immediately springs to mind as a far superior album on the subject and The man who married a robot/love theme is a carbon copy of the latter’s Fitter Happier. Comparisons between the two bands have since naturally been drawn, with The 1975 considered to be a “millennial Radiohead”. To describe The 1975 as such shouldn’t be heralded in a positive light, especially given the negative sentiment around the term and the notion of what being a millennial represents to some – profound narcissism and insecurity falsely ring-fenced within safe spaces. In fact, it is ironic that an album which explores the absurdity of our dependance on social media has a marketing campaign conducted heavily on the very platforms it seeks to undermine, to a fan base who are the platforms’ biggest victims.
A Brief Enquiry… also serves as a social commentary on a populist western world suffering from an identity crisis off the back of successive governments’ failed interventionist foreign policy (Love it if we made it is a modern iteration of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire). And, in that sense the album is representative of its time: disjointed and divisive. The error lies in not seeing this for what it is – an album. The disjointedness makes you have to re-position yourself with every track and it just doesn’t sound that good. If you want to witness how to so eloquently encapsulate the sign o’ the times, look no further than Prince’s album of the same name. Not only is he able to place you perfectly in his surroundings through his writing, but the emphasis he creates musically, notably through purposeful, brief moments of silence, adds a level of profundity that is notably absent in The 1975. These are symptoms of a truly great artist deserving of accolades such as “The Band of The Decade”, while the ludicrous levels of production and auto-tune of The 1975 run at complete odds with these symptoms. And there are many others who have equally left their own pieces of history on the commentary of humanity; Bob Dylan, for example, is rightfully considered as the voice of his generation during one of the most politically unstable periods in modern history. There are few better at detailing the painful and brutal reality of what it’s like to be a black man in America than Kendrick Lamar. While Healy’s purposefully curt and stinging lyrics are also poignant, especially in the context of his own personal struggles, they do not warrant such hyperbolic plaudits.
Mediocrity and, more worryingly, the lauding of it is our plat du jour, and music has fallen victim to this trend. Since we are ultimately the product of our surroundings, mediocrity wrapped in grandeur is the consequence of a society wrapped in cotton wool, terrified of both criticism and offence. The creation of “safe space” coupled with a vacuum of genuine, passionate discourse has created a sheep-like society in a mindless press-and-play world. When you have platforms that enable music “discovery” on your behalf alongside a marketing campaign that includes every major editorial sensationalising an average album to drive advertising revenue, you know the model is broken. The likelihood of surfacing truly great musical talent diminishes considerably. The 1975’s latest album can certainly be ascribed ‘album of the decade’, albeit only in the sense that it’s powerful symbol of everything wrong with music journalism in the 2010s. In reality, what lurks below the false sheen is a secretive, bigoted world that is increasingly divided and moving ever further away from the euphoric cohesion digitally dreamed up by those ignorant to the ugly truths of any society.