While this follow-up shares some of the annoying mannerisms that curdled one’s enjoyment of The 1975’s 2013 debut, it’s ultimately a much more enjoyable and considered work, one which starts to deliver on the immense hype that accompanied their emergence.
It does tend to leave one wondering at times how – not to mention why – they balance the infuriating with the engaging, the cynical with the empathic, the stiff with the soft; though it’s in the accommodation of such apparent opposites, I suppose, that lies the essence of being human.
“Love Me” opens the album where the first left off, with their gauche take on Talking Heads’ preppy funk-pop: overly bright, overly thin rhythm guitars panning between speakers, a wibbly synth break, and a self-regarding lyric about being adored, which few did when it was released as a single last year.
Much the same happened to its follow-up “UGH!”, which was even less appealing, mistaking mere riff for melody, and lyrical tricksiness for sophistication.
Things don’t improve for a few more tracks – “A Change of Heart” is a queasy mix of cynicism and electropop, and “She’s American” another brittle funk-pop exercise with damped lead guitar nibbling away over tinny rhythm guitars.
But “If I Believe You” sets the album on an upward course, ironically by being the closest they’ve come to an actual 1975 sound – specifically, the breathy tone and furry keyboards of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”, given a modern glitch-soul makeover.
It’s also more simple and open than previous songs, Matt Healy wondering, “If I’m lost, then how can I find myself?”.
But typically, they can’t leave well alone, and puncture the mood with a series of irritating sonic intrusions, which simply taint any empathy they’ve developed. Still, it’s a move in the right direction, and the flugelhorn solo is discreetly touching.
The instrumental “Please Be Naked” continues the improvement, with an attractive, emotional piano motif surrounded by ambient noises lolloping liquidly around.
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The mood extends into “Lostmyhead”, with a thread of ebow guitar trailing through another backdrop of ambient noises and hushed vocals.
“The Ballad of Me and My Brain” tackles much the same theme, but in less simpatico style, with the brittle drums and ringing pop-soul guitar returning to taunt Healy as he sings, “Six full days, it drove me insane/Where would I be, if I was my brain?”.
It’s a momentary lapse, however: the breathy vocals are back for “Somebody Else”, one of the more genuinely moving break-up songs of recent years, its protagonist both tortured by the prospect of his ex with someone else, but taking solace from the knowledge she’s not lonely.
The emotional effort, though, seems to take its toll, as “Loving Someone” finds Healy adopting a mockney rap style to deliver a cynical, self-condemning commentary on pop culture’s obsession with using sex to sell.
“I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques,” he chides himself, “I’m trying to impress but instead I’m selling sex; and I think I should be loving someone.”
It’s a revealing moment of self-knowledge that pays off a few songs later, authenticating the sincerity of the album’s closing brace of songs.
One is a tenderly abject plaint, delivered solo with just acoustic guitar, about a girl adrift in drug addiction; the other a disarming tribute to a grandmother whose passing has clearly affected Healy badly, but brought him some perspective.
“If I live past 72,” he sings, “I hope I’m half as good as you.”
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