The 1975 evolve on long but rewarding sophomore LP

"The 1975" performs at the mtvU Woodie Awards during SXSW in Austin, Texas, in 2014. Manuel Nauta via Tribune News Service

Back in 2013, British pop band The 1975 burst on to the music scene with its debut self-titled album. The record, to say the least, polarized critics leaving some to appreciate the group’s pop proclivities and others to denounce them as just another pompous boy band. Failing to garner true critical or commercial success, The 1975 risked fading into obscurity before its career even took off.

Leading up to The 1975’s second album, lead singer Matthew Healy found himself unsure of how to address the shortcomings of group’s debut LP. In response to this challenge, Healy revealed that the goal was to create a body of work unlike anything the band had previously done. In an interview with SPIN, Healy said, “I think that [the album will] change a lot of people’s minds about who we are as a band.” He further elaborated on the nature of the album stating, “You can’t not acknowledge the record for what it is. It’s obviously a body of work which a lot of time and attention to detail has gone into.”

The resulting album, titled “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It,” was released on Feb. 25, and the record perfectly captures the essence of what makes The 1975 such an oddity in today’s pop music sphere. The album is an absolute, gorgeous mess. As if the title were not an indicator, the album runs a lengthy 74 minutes, and the listener will certainly feel that time pass at certain points. Yet, the borderline unmanageability of the album is what makes it more than worth listening to because it is impossible to absorb everything in just one play.

The record borrows from a wide range of influences including Duran Duran, The Police, David Bowie, INXS and George Michael. The album roots its sound gloriously in this 1980s sheen but with more references to sex and drugs than Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen made on their respective 80s-influenced records. Accordingly, The 1975’s sophomore effort comes across as a love letter to the bands and artists of yesteryear while also infusing them with a variety of sounds, among them house, gospel, New Wave and synthpop.

Love Me,” the lead single of “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It,” is one of the album’s most thrilling songs. The funky 80s sounding jam sounds completely out of place amidst America’s current radio landscape, but the track’s brilliance lies in the juxtaposition of Healy’s brash tone with his clear yearning for love and affection. “UGH!” continues to prove that such dark subjects can be tackled with pop sensibilities as Healy keeps the funk going in order to sing about addiction.

The album slows down on “A Change of Heart,” and the results are simply emotionally devastating. The New Wave-inspired breakup anthem deals with the venom that comes from falling out of love with someone. When Healy deadpans lines such as “You were coming across as clever / Then you lit the wrong end of a cigarette,” the listener can still feel the anger in his voice despite the romantic tone of shimmering synths. “She’s American” and “If I Believe You” continue the album’s scattershot sonic shifts; the former continues to explore the funky vibes of the previous two tracks while the latter comes off as a gospel tribute to the king of the 80s — Michael Jackson.

Towards the end of the album, “The Sound” comes blasting through the speakers reminding the listener that — for all intents and purposes — The 1975 is still a pop band, and they are damn good at making some pop magic. The track seemingly fuses house music and disco-inspired synths to create an upbeat anthem of fearless proportions. The song’s hook is so eloquently constructed and enunciated that one will be singing “Well I know when you’re around cause I know the sound / I know the sound, of your heart” along with Healy almost instantaneously.

The fact that “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It” touches on such a wide range of topics from love to drugs to mental illness to family is a testament to both The 1975’s budding skills and the scope of its vision as artists. While at times this ambition almost swallows the record whole, this double LP is unlike anything else one will hear all year and is a fascinating product that nonetheless deserves to be more than noticed.


Summary

While it is too long and obtuse in places to merit full acclaim, The 1975’s sophomore record fearlessly demands that the music consuming public sit up and take notice of this bold, 80s-inspired artistic statement.

3.5 stars
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