In focussing on real-life interaction in an increasingly digital and disconnected world, The 1975’s new album ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ is an powerful document of humanity
- TextTom Connick
It could have all gone a bit Banksy. The 1975’s new album – once named Music For Cars, now titled A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – could so easily have fallen into the same trappings of a thousand Black Mirror-lite art projects before it: endless whinging about technology, but offering nothing. Luckily for them, though, they have Matty Healy.
Healy is a popstar for a new generation – one who has grown concurrently with the rise of technology. Unlike the countless baby boomer thinkpieces and sorry, ‘phones are bad’ memes your fake-woke uncle shares on Facebook, Healy and his audience see both the light and dark of the internet. Attention spans might have been slashed, and ‘filter bubbles’ may have limited complex conversation, but the internet has also given a voice to marginalised communities, and connected the planet.
With A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, Healy doesn’t judge or attempt to present a solution – instead, he embraces the nuanced debate and careful consideration that has thus far evaded those titular online relationships. The internet is a place for black-and-white thinking; Matty Healy is encouraging his audience to embrace the vivid colour of real-life, human interaction. As the poem that has accompanied The 1975 since their very first LP states: “The poetry is in the streets, in full living colour.”
Irony is a pillar of both online discourse, and The 1975’s work to date. Their excellent second album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it found the band mainstream critical acceptance in a way their debut never managed. At the core of that was The Sound, and the knowingly, overwhelmingly tongue-in-cheek music video and BRIT Awards performance that came with it, which saw the band play on as insults, takedowns and negativity aimed in their direction flashed up on screen. It was the moment The 1975 truly arrived – and it was drenched in irony. The lyrics on that album followed suit: tracks like Love Me and The Ballad Of Me And My Brain were self-referential in the extreme, Healy ridiculing himself at every turn, packing the record full of gags.
In the interviews Healy has done in the lead-up to A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, he has been keen to stress one point in particular – this album is a departure from that ironic state. Sincerity Is Scary, one of the many eclectic singles released in the run-up to today’s release, tackles that head on. “You try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way,” he sings, seemingly at himself. “It’s just a self-referential way that stops you having to be human.” Stripping back the self-reference in favour of sincerity, Healy embraces humanity and frankness throughout. In an era of ‘personal brands’ and ‘yass queen, that’s the tea’ stan culture, it’s a somewhat radical move.
That humanity pops up countless times on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Give Yourself A Try longs for a world in which people embrace their own flaws and absurdities; the show-stopping Love It If We Made It faces a fucked-up planet head-on, and longs for a positive outcome. Healy’s yearning, strained vocal has always been core to The 1975’s sound, but he’s rarely sounded as desperate for connection as on A Brief Enquiry…
Leading by example, Healy’s own honesty is disarming. Inside Your Mind is a beautiful love song about wanting to cave your own partner’s skull in so you know what they’re really thinking, while the one-two of It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) and Surrounded By Heads And Bodies openly discusses both Healy’s past heroin addiction (“Collapse my veins wearing beautiful shoes”) and the rehab centre he went to to ditch it. On the closing I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) – a song that takes the isolation of depression and turns it into an arena-worthy hit – he embraces perhaps the most human thing of all: death. “Your death it won’t happen to you / It happens to your family and your friends”, Healy sings, before screaming the song’s title from the high heavens. It’s the most human he’s ever sounded – a completely smarm-free admission of his own struggles with suicidal thoughts.
Whether he likes it or not (and I suspect he does), Matty Healy has become a spokesperson for a generation of lost, young creatives. His fanbase flock to him, and adhere to his every word. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is his most essential statement to date. It finds Healy addressing a world lost in irony, baffled by current affairs and slipping into emotional numbness, and refocussing his outlook. It’s easy to point, joke and laugh at the world around us, make meta meme after meta meme, or hide your true feelings behind a simplified soundboard of meaningless statements (“Poison me daddy”, indeed) – it’s far harder to embrace the warts and all of humanity and true, meaningful connections. Sincerity might be scary, but if the results are art like A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships, and figures like Matty Healy leading the way, then it’s got to be worth a try.