Almost three long years have passed since The 1975 sprung onto the music scene with their bold and well-received eponymous début album. Packaged with an aesthetic monochrome image, an abundance of 80’s influenced alt-rock, asymmetrical R&B and an ostentatious yet simultaneously endearing frontman – Matt Healy – The 1975 polarised critics and music lovers alike. Still, the band’s début album catapulted straight into number one in the UK album chart, their eclectic sound and unequivocal lyrics winning them a legion of fans all over the world.
The follow up to a platinum selling album was always going to arrive with weighted expectations but Healy’s recurrent boasting in interviews (‘The world needs this album’, he informed NME, prior to its release in self-praise Kanye West would be proud of) and a wealth of preceding publicity made ‘I like it when you sleep…’ one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. From its ambitiously wordy title and hefty seventy five minute duration to its frequent genre-hopping, it’s an audacious album but one which ultimately pays off.
For their follow-up, the monochrome façade is replaced with a vivid pink, a sign of the band’s reinvention and their musical evolution. Lyrically, ‘I like it when you sleep…’ possesses a darker tone than its predecessor. Whilst the drug and sex references are still frequent, the rock and roll is less so. Understandably, the band have matured significantly since their previous work was written and this shows through its exploration of darker themes such as mental health, depression, death and loneliness. The album’s tone is far from melancholic, however as it is comprised of various genres, making it a compelling listen.
The 80’s-influenced indie rock present on their début extends onto ‘I like it when you sleep…’, channelling the flamboyance of the likes of INXS and Duran Duran but with far greater polished production. From the buoyant Bowie-esque ‘Love Me‘ with its squeaky synthesisers and quirky guitar riffs to the gentle ‘Change of Heart‘ with its synthetic vocal fragments and synthesisers fluttering over soft 808 percussion, The 1975 once again capture the brashness of 80’s music but with a 21st century spin. There’s also the brilliantly effervescent ‘She’s American‘ which wittily documents cultural differences with lyrics such as ‘And if she likes it ’cause we just don’t eat and we’re socially relevant, she’s American’ over twinkling synthesisers and funky guitar riffs provided by guitarist Adam Hann. The band’s musicianship and synchronicity are accentuated through the new-jack swing of ‘This Must Be My Dream‘ with its gospel melodies, silky vocals, slamming percussion, driving bass lines and snarling guitar riffs. The moody ‘Somebody Else‘ is aching with vulnerability and finds Healy pining for an ex-lover over swirling synths, a brilliant twitchy bassline provided by bassist Ross Macdonald and gated percussion. It also has the best bridge on the album on which Healy growls “Got someone you love? Get someone you need? F**k that get money, I can’t give you my soul ’cause we’re never alone” over juddering production. This is about as far as the John Hughes soundtrack alternatives go on this album however.
The rest of the album is a testament to the band’s love of genre hopping, generating an album which isn’t musically cohesive but its content is of a quality that compensates for this, enabling fans to dip in and out as they please. They explore Prince-influenced R&B on the slick ‘UGH!‘, shoegazing through the angst of ‘Lostmyhead‘ and pop-disco on the fantastically catchy ‘The Sound‘. ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain‘ flirts with grunge stadium rock featuring fantastically erratic drums from George Daniel and broken vocal fragments. Its playful lyrics tell of Healy’s quest to find his brain (likely in reference to a meltdown whilst on tour in 2014) searching in bars, on the train and in Sainsbury’s whilst sneakily making a reference to 2007 meltdown-Britney at the end.
Then there’s ‘Loving Someone‘ in which Healy does his best impersonation of Mike Skinner – half-rapping his social observations of how the media and celebrity culture shapes teenagers over hip-hop beats and clinking piano riffs. Lyrically, it’s one of Healy’s best, with lines such as ‘It’s better if we make them want the opposite sex’ and ‘I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques’ emphasising his pensive nature and ability to give his music meaning – a rare occurrence in contemporary music.
The band throw a curve-ball on the biblical ‘If I Believe You‘ on which Healy searches for and beseeches a higher power to curb his loneliness. Perhaps the album’s best moment, it’s a sincere and dignified track which mirrors the likes of Prince and D’Angelo through layering eerie electronic elements, an understated horn solo and spine-tingling utilisation of a gospel choir over organic percussion. Its lyrical content is a paradox of its jazz-influenced gospel instrumentation but it works absolutely beautifully with a stunning climax where Healy’s effect-drenched vocals languish ‘If I’m lost, then how can I find myself?’
Elsewhere, the glossy, polished Pop records are punctuated by less commercial ambient music through glitchy instrumentals comprised of fragmented sounds, broken vocal samples and heavily processed electro elements in a similar fashion the band’s first EPs. ‘Please Be Naked‘ is a stunning piano-led instrumental evidently influenced by sigur rós and is a sign of what’s to follow on ‘Lostmyhead‘. The band excel at this most on the title track, ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it‘, however. Pretty and melodic piano particles flutter over driving electronica whilst Healy’s lusciously layered vocals beg his lover not to leave. The track is lengthy at six minutes but is split into two parts, evolving into an uplifting and exquisitely beautiful house track. It’s likely to be the most overlooked track on the album but is a perfect reminder of Healy and Daniel’s impeccable ability to create and produce music.
The album begins to decelerate towards the end beginning with the mellow electropop of ‘Paris‘, a drug-fuelled interpretation of Yazoo’s ‘Only You‘ featuring sparse guitars and dizzy synthesisers. It’s another of the album’s highlights with a catchy, honeyed ‘again and again’ refrain. The final two tracks are stripped to the bare minimum and driven by an acoustic guitar, ‘Nana‘ being a heartbreaking ode to Healy’s late grandparent and ‘She Lays Down‘ documenting his mother’s (TV personality and actress Denise Welch) battle with post-natal depression. It may not be the most uplifting finale to the album but its de-acceleration brings it to a perfect, gentle close.
One of the album’s fortes and its main source of cohesion is its lyrical content. Healy possesses a genuine talent as a lyricist, addressing heavy topics and destructive individuals in a playful, frank and witty manner and accurately addresses contemporary culture in candid fashion. He’s also a master of self-deprecation, whether its through labelling himself as ‘a sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe’ on ‘The Sound‘ or as ‘a pain in woman’s clothes’ on ‘Paris‘. Even more impressive is his use of intertextuality through referencing and recycling the band’s previous lyrics and melodies.
It’s easy for ‘genuine music lovers’ to brand the band as a generic, derivative boyband who only appeal to teenage girls but one listen to ‘I like it when you sleep…’ is enough to dispel these criticisms. The musicality, the polysemic threads and comprehensive nature of the album proves The 1975 are the band of the moment. As Healy lashed out against uninspired Pop music last Autumn, he ranted “No one’s asking you to inspire a revolution, but inspire something.” And that’s exactly what ‘I like it when you sleep…’ does from beginning to end.
An extraordinary album which pushes the boundaries through experimentation, sharp lyrics and unashamedly brilliant Pop music.
- Rating: 5/5.
- Highlights: ‘She’s American‘, ‘If I Believe You‘, ‘Somebody Else‘, ‘Loving Someone‘, ‘The Sound‘, ‘This Must Be My Dream‘, ‘Paris‘.
‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ is available now on Dirty Hit/Polydor records.