The 1975 have made the most 2018 album of 2018
Uneasy, searching, awkward, personal, lonely and brilliant - a record for the good, bad and ugly of the modern age.
We live in a fraught time for music, for culture, for just about everything, really.
Each new month (or week) brings familiar arguments. Guitar Music is Dead. Hip Hop is King. Hardcore Will Never Die.
The desperate struggle to crown new titans, coupled with the rise of stan culture and the terrifying devotion thereof can only result in distortion.
Ariana Grande's 'thank u, next', for example, is a terrific song, but the level of intense hype and subsequent endless memes and references that sprung up in the hours following its arrival erases critical heft.
Fair enough, for stratospheric acts are bulletproof enough when it comes to review notices. The machine buzzes on regardless, the Internet remaining unbroken despite the assault.
Hyperbole may as well be the fifth official member of The 1975.
The Manchester pop-rockers find themselves as perhaps unlikely candidates for heirs to the pop culture throne, but it makes sense in its own violently 2018 way, as does their newest missive.
In frontman Matthew 'Matty' Healy, they boast a fearless chameleon that opts to hide in radiant sight. Healy looks like he could work in or model for Topman, given the day. That shouldn't matter, but aesthetic is currency in this feed-driven life, perhaps now more than ever.
He is relentlessly plugged into the moment, drowning in social commentary, a blue-ticked avatar of technicolour truth. A middle class upbringing and eventual heroin addiction ticks profile-sketching boxes, but it is Healy's commitment to sketching himself that stands out.
He freely admits that he's playing the role of a rock star. Trouble is, he's found himself becoming a legitimate one of his own over the past five years.
"I do the Jim Morrison thing a bit,” he told Billboard in August.
“But I know that you know that I know that this isn't real. I’m so aware of the vocabulary of rock’n’roll, and what’s tired.
"It’s difficult because everything’s so postmodern and self-referential and hyperaware of everything being bullshit. As I grow as an artist, I just want to be sincere.”
Clip via The 1975
He's confident enough, with it.
“There are no big bands who are doing anything as interesting as us right now,” he underlined in the same interview, pointing to The 1975's status as Reading headliners.
“Tell me dudes with guitars who are more relevant to do that slot," he added, rhetorically.
There's a lot in that. Healy and The 1975 are easy to dismiss and to label both pretentious and vacuous. This writer has done that, but any critic should relish the chance for fresh education.
There is every chance that the 29-year-old and his charges embody some kind of meta-ironic statement designed to fuck with judges and society at large, though perhaps there's more of that whole sincerity thing at play.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the third album in the 1975 canon, contains enough material for two or three more.
There's Bon Iver-treated laments, Joy Division and Radiohead lifts, Damien Rice-esque ballads, sugar-soaked pop, '80s throwback emotion, social commentary informed exclusively by headlines generated this year, jazz standards, stadium-filling wanderings, at least one song that would have been a Britpop anthem and robots.
In black and white terms, it's a sprawling mess, but that's the point. Such is life, after all.
Clip via The 1975
Take 'Love It If We Made It', that aforementioned amalgam of click-friendly of-the-moment stories. It covers everything from Donald Trump, Kanye West and Lil Peep to Syrian refugees and fatal cravings, all set to a defiant glam stomp.
You won't hear a more urgent, immediate, heartbroken and hopeful hymn in the mainstream charts all year. You believe a desperate, exasperated Healy when he says he wants us to pull through. It works.
It really works, even if it does liberally crib from enduring Scottish art-poppers The Blue Nile, a connection its author instantly and openly cops to in his Pitchfork dissection of this record.
That conversation, in and of itself constructed to make you wince, offers up another elaborate puzzle piece that means everything or nothing.
Another verbal volley, meanwhile, will likely please those who think Black Mirror is The Bible for intellectually enriching societal critique, while alienating everyone else inside about 60 seconds.
30 minutes into A Brief Inquiry..., we get the 1975 equivalent of Radiohead's 'Fitter Happier' as Siri details the account of a lonely man who lives in a lonely house on a lonely street in a lonely part of the world.
The short story feels like something Healy scrawled out on a napkin in an underground whiskey bar when everyone else had gone home for the night. It's obvious, a little immature, a touch silly and ultimately kind of crushingly empty. And of course, that's the point.
While we're on the subject of Radiohead; no, this album isn't necessarily the "millennial answer to OK Computer" as NME crowed. First, isn't OK Computer the millennial answer to OK Computer? Second, do we need such a pissing contest?
Clip via The 1975
As this album begins to fade, struggles and longings tied to very real and very difficult drug dependency are lit up with a wildly upbeat pop arrangement, complete with shout-a-long chorus. Later still, Healy gently ushers in the kind of number he might perform in that whiskey bar once a night, all for the brief unfocused attention of lost souls.
To finish, 'I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)' - with song and album titles like this, you really do need to make a decision one way or the other - presents a wonderfully honest and compassionate exploration of the existential crisis that seems to be so publicly, communally swallowing us whole.
At the heart of it all? An actual pumping heart.
Sure, not all of this hits - 'Be My Mistake', for instance, could easily be read as wildly problematic - but how could it possibly? This is one of the most indulgent pieces of work from one of the most bombastic groups currently operating, and it's important for it.
In a time when nobody is really anyone, maybe crashing into one another via endless hurriedly-created Big Statements is the only communication that makes sense.
A new language of noise, as the world burns hotter still. We can't sustain like this, can only count the cost of the bruises for so long, but hope springs eternal, right?
And you'd love it if we made it.