After a brief foray into metal and synth with their experimental album Notes on a Conditional Form (2020), indie rock band the 1975 is back on their 2013 bullshit. Their latest release, Being Funny in a Foreign Language (2022), is a return to their old sound with standout tracks reminiscent of the singles that first launched them into the mainstream a decade ago.
One of the strengths of Being Funny in Foreign Language is its brevity, unusual for a 1975 album. Whereas their previous releases averaged an hour-and-fifteen-minute run time with 17.5 tracks per album, Being Funny is short and sweet, with 11 tracks over 44 minutes. It largely eschews skippable songs or transition tracks, which means it’s easier to digest from start to finish. No longer lost in experimental sounds or white noise, as was the problem with their previous album, the band has figured out how to cut to the point without getting lost in the details.
Many of the tracks can be understood as responses to the band’s previous releases. Change over time can be mapped from The 1975’s first album to their latest. The second track “Happiness” calls back to 2016’s “The Sound,” and the movement from the latter to the former traces the development of an intense, all-consuming love into one that’s more grounded in contentment. “I’m in Love With You” is a sunny, upbeat anthem in the vein of 2018’s “It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You.” The album strikes a balance between these celebratory sounds, full of guitars, horns and drums, and the more melancholic tracks like “Human Too,” which is pared-down, mainly relying on keys and vocals, with a message that David Morrissey of The Smiths might approve. Some of the more experimental tracks include “Oh Caroline,” and “Looking for Somebody (to Love),” both of which recall 1980s pop through their use of keys, percussion, and synth.
Tracks of note include the lead single “Part of the Band,” which incorporates strings, horns and harmonicas in an orchestral account of youth, while still satirizing aesthetic wokeness (“some vaccinista chic tote bag chic baristas / sitting east on their communista keisters”). And of course, there’s the viral “About You,” whose bridge by Carly Holt immediately started trending on TikTok. Genius calls the song a musical continuation of 2013’s “Robbers,” a standout from the band’s debut album, but the connection is a little more reflective. “About You” is what “Robbers” might sound like when played from another room, distorted and softened by walls or years or the weight of experience.
The 1975 usually builds discussion of life in the postmodern era into their lyrics. The opening track “The 1975,” self-described as the band’s status update, establishes the album as both nostalgic and political, a 2022 lamentation rooted in 2013 youth. Its hook, “I’m sorry if you’re living and you’re 17,” recalls the band’s debut album almost a decade ago, in which the song “Girls” detailed 17-year-old girls’ sexual relationships with men in their 20s and 30s. That song was written from the perspective of the older man in the relationship, whereas “The 1975” reflects a distance from teenagers in 2022 and laments the commodification of entire personalities. The 2022 understanding of the line “You’re making an aesthetic out of not doing well / Mining all the bits of you you think you can sell” is reminiscent of 2013 Tumblr girl culture, the scene into which the 1975 initially emerged and quickly found a fan following. In both the 2013 Tumblr iteration and the present TikTok creator relatable-anxious-hot girl version, the subculture is about capturing the essence or image of a type of being, usually feminine, that can be easily reproduced, shared, and spread online. Through this opening song, The 1975 links the adolescent internet youth culture of the 2010s to the commercialized digital age in its prime for the Gen Zers of the 2020s.
The 1975 is at their best when discussing the nuances of relationships, time, and distance. The political aspect of their music is best executed when specific and detailed; too much is an overload, a desire to make grand statements that is so on-the-nose it’s a turn-off (e.g. “We’re experiencing life through the postmodern lens”). Their strongest images are found not in direct declarations about the postmodern but in portraits of the people who live in it: the kind of person who’s “been a vegan since 10” years old and says things like “Central Park is Sea World for trees.” Matty Healy’s satire spares no one, not even himself. “Part of the Band” includes an ironic comment on indie poets “writing about their ejaculations,” as Healy does when he opens the song with a euphemism about the same thing.
If the first half of the album recalls the songs that launched the band into fame, then the second half captures a new kind of distance. With “All That I Need to Hear,” the sonic turning point of the album, the band slows down the time signature and reduces the instruments to focus on Healy’s vocals, light keys and guitar, and a steady drumbeat. The pared-down form of the song mirrors the simplicity of its message: “I don’t need the crowds and the cheers / Just tell me you love me / That’s all that I need to hear.” That this song immediately follows the orchestral, celebratory anthems of the first half of the album mimics the trajectory of a relationship from an intense passion to a more tempered form of contentment with the other person. The closing act of Being Funny in a Foreign Language invites listeners to grow up with The 1975––aging in a relationship, aging in life (“Wintering”), aging alone (“Human Too”), and out of love past its prime (“About You” and “When We’re Together”).
In the past, frontman Healy has written on everything from his relationships to his heroin addiction to getting canceled on the Internet. If his vocals were once desperate, raw and unabashed, he now demonstrates a more mature sensibility toward the same issues. Youth in crisis is still a major theme of this album, but it’s told with a mix of melancholy and declarations of love in the face of all that. With a newfound wisdom that comes with age, Being Funny in a Foreign Language ultimately suggests persistence, solace found in small celebrations, even if the world around you is in free fall.
VOICE’S CHOICES: “Happiness,” “Part of the Band,” “Wintering,” “About You”