A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships
CD / DL / Vinyl
At last, their masterpiece. After two albums that threatened world domination and artistic reverence, A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships is the intellectual and musical zenith The 1975 always promised. Sam Lambeth gives it – and himself – a try.
“You learn a couple of things when you get to my age,” winks Matty Healy. One of the first lines sang on The 1975’s sprawling, stupendous third album, it displays a man so known with emotional death-rolling finally finding peace with his predicaments. It’s a sentiment that sails through A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships, a record that bravely, occasionally foolishly, rattles through random genres in its contented commentary on modern-day living.
Much has been made of A Brief Enquiry… being The 1975’s version of OK Computer. Where the latter dealt with pre-Millennium mental breakdown through focused and direct guitar rock, The 1975 are instead dealing with a generation trawling through Tinder, wondering the decaying streets of Brexit-riddled Britain and scoffing at the thought of paying for music. However, in reality, A Brief Enquiry… is actually this century’s Achtung Baby. Just like U2’s era-defining record, The 1975’s third album is pure sensory overload, not least on the headline-spouting groove of Love It If We Made It, a We Didn’t Start the Fire for Facebook as Healy spits out an endless barrage of bulletins (“a beach of drowning three-year-olds,” “Rest in Peace, Lil Peep”).
And, of course, just like old Bono, Healy is a fan of megalomania and melodrama in equal measure. Just as Love It If We Made It proclaims “modernity has failed us”, you have the Siri-narrated The Man Who Married A Robot. It starts out as cringy as a Sixth Form practical drama exam on the dangers of spending too much time on Snapchat, when by the end it has the grace and devastation of Greek theatre. And that’s what makes A Brief Enquiry… so damn near irresistible. Songs that often begin sounding disastrous and half-baked end with a triumphant flourish. How To Draw / Petrichor is awash with Drake-indebted auto-tune and rumbling, fractured beats but still stays true to The 1975’s ethos, while Sincerity Is Scary is all rumbling sax and skittish drums, where Healy’s lyrics are honest and self-deprecating (“you try and mask your pain in the most post-modern way”).
There’s also room for straight-ahead observations and pure pop joy. TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME is effervescent in its wonderful simplicity, a dancefloor filler buoyed by Balearic beats, while Give Yourself A Try shamelessly pilfers Joy Division’s Disorder as Healy laments on hitting the wrong side of the twenties (he also hits one of his greatest lines, “I found a grey hair in one of my zoots / like context in a modern debate, I just took it out”).
A Brief Enquiry… is maddening, arbitrary, genius, insane and foolhardy in strange and compelling doses. It will serve as a time capsule of a troubled and technological era, but will never be a relic – this is an album that will be looked to as a touchstone for artistic talent. Healy has learned a lot when he comes to his age – namely how to contain his meandering talents into focused, but frolicking, pop.
Sam Lambeth is a journalist, writer and musician, born in the West Midlands but currently living in London. He performs in his own band, Quinn. He is on Twitter, and more of his work can be found on his archive.