Notes on a Conditional Form is the fourth studio album by English band the 1975, released on 22 May 2020 through Dirty Hit and Polydor Records. The album follows their third album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018) and is the second and supposed to be final part of two albums from their third release cycle, "Music for Cars". The album marks a significant change in sound from the band's previous albums, with genres spanning from industrial rock to more electronic sounds, such as house.
In 2017, The 1975 announced their third studio album would be titled Music for Cars, in reference to their third extended play of the same name. Lead singer Matty Healy stated on Twitter that the band would release the album in 2018, followed by the release of an album under the name Drive Like I Do, the band's previous moniker, in the spring of the next coming years. On 31 May 2018, the band released the single "Give Yourself a Try" from their third studio album, now titled A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. With the release came the announcement that Music for Cars was no longer an album, but rather an "era" containing two albums, scrapping the planned Drive Like I Do album in favour of releasing a fourth studio album in May 2019.
On 21 February 2019, the band announced that the first single from the album would release on 31 May, with the album following "before Reading Festival", which took place on 23 August 2019. On 14 April 2019, Healy also shared a promotional image on Twitter teasing artwork for the album. Three days later, Healy retweeted a video of him performing an unreleased song titled "Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America", and adding the caption "Notes". On 23 July 2019, as with all other eras, all social media pages associated with the band became deactivated. The next day, all band accounts were reactivated and the first song on the album, "The 1975", was released, featuring a monologue from climate change activist Greta Thunberg. A countdown then began counting down to the release of the lead single, "People", which was released on 22 August 2019. The album was subsequently announced for release on 21 February 2020 via an iTunes preorder. It will be 22 tracks long. "Frail State of Mind" then followed later in the year, being released on 24 October 2019. On 13 January 2020, the album's release was pushed back to 24 April 2020, and the album cover was changed, but changing back to the original artwork two days later. On 30 March 2020, the release date of the album was pushed back again to 22 May 2020, and the album cover was once again changed, but the original artwork later used for digital release and the changing artwork used for physical release.
Larry Fitzmaurice of Entertainment Weekly described Notes on a Conditional Form as a genre-hopping blend of pop and rock music, similar to their previous albums, with a recurring theme of electronic pop and dance music. During a Reddit AMA on 5 March 2019, a fan asked if the album would be a heavy emo record, to which Healy responded "Kind of yeah". He later reiterated the comment in an article with NME on 15 April 2019; "I'm an active emo man I suppose I’d call myself, I think that bands when they get to a stage that maybe we’re in they wanna kind of graduate into being like a massive rock band whereas we wanna graduate like into being a small emo band, if you know what I mean". The lead single "People" marked an experimental and harsh change in sound for the band, with the song having been described as anarcho-punk and industrial metal musically.
Further experimentation for the band can be seen in tracks 'Yeah I Know,' 'Shiny Collarbone' and 'Having No Head' which incorporate elements of house, drum and bass and dubstep. In an interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1, Healy explained that the album would be inspired by British nighttime culture, adding that it contains references to "the beauty of the M25 and all those lights and going to McDonald's and listening to garage records in a haze in a Peugeot 206." He also told Q that the album has a style similar to English alternative hip hop music group the Streets and British electronic musician Burial. In a separate interview, he added that the record has "one of my best lyrics ever." These influences inspired the much darker and electronic sound of the album.
User Album Review
There has always been a masterplan, The 1975 assure us, for the so-called Music For Cars era (of which their early EPs, 2013 debut ‘The 1975’, 2016 follow-up ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’ and 2018’s ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ are all a part). And of which the brand new ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’, their long – long – delayed fourth album, is the concluding chapter.
Each part tells a story – some of it true, some of it not – about the band, or more specifically about Matty Healy, the lyricist, co-writer and firebrand frontman, an artist so invested in his role as the latter that last year he told NME that he’d happily die on stage for his art and beliefs.
The narrative arc follows Healy from his origins – not ordinary, being the child of two reasonably well-known TV personalities, but not totally exceptional either, being a guy from a town near Manchester dreaming of being a rock star. The dreaming was documented on that polished, poppy debut, all spunk and hubris. The second album was an inflated version of the reality that followed its Number One success – a gleeful step into the circus of fame that conspicuously created a new musical messiah for the woke kids. ‘A Brief Inquiry…’, meanwhile, found Healy looking out to the world from his newly lofty platform – at politics, life and the internet. Lots of the internet.
And this one? It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s the kind non-ending that happens in real life, rather than the one that might be written in a movie script. And it’s all the more brilliant for that.
There are as many Healys here as there are musical styles, on an album that ranges from Burial-inspired electronica (the thrilling, mind-bending ‘Shiny Collarbone’, which features vocals from Jamaican dancehall musician Cutty Ranks) to knock-kneed indie-pop (‘If You’re Too Shy (Then Let Me Know)’), searing anarcho-punk (‘People’) and all points in between. There are even orchestral interludes such as ‘The End (Music For Cars)’, giving the album the feel of a soundtrack for a Disney movie about a rock star who can’t make his mind up what his band sounds like.
For fans of The 1975, this is hopefully not a daunting prospect – they’re a group who, so to speak, discover that their audience likes apples and so serve them oranges on purpose. Talking to NME during the long gestation of ‘Notes…’, Healy said that the intention was to create an album that sounded more like The 1975 by pushing the extremes, and in that they’ve succeeded.
But they’re also a band who find cohesion in chaos, often through mood or lyrics, and by dint of the latter always being thoroughly heartfelt. A pervading theme among the many strands on ‘Notes…’ is that of Healy as a kind of Man Who Fell To Earth figure, askew from the world he finds himself in, sometimes amused, sometimes bemused. ‘The Birthday Party’ – one of a whopping six tracks released in the run-up to the album – finds him floating around a gathering in a hotel room, not really there in spirit, enjoying the feeling of using the tricks he’s learned on the road, such as turning the tap on in the bathroom to disguise the noises.
Elsewhere, he’s bent on deconstructing the entire artifice of his carefully curated persona: “I never fucked in a car, I was lying,” he sings, on ‘Nothing Revealed/Nothing Denied’, undermining the band’s totemic ‘Love It If We Made It’. “I do it in a bed lying down.”
The album is toe-curlingly confessional at times, but always relatable. On the catchy ‘Roadkill’ we hear details of Healy’s “tucked-up erection” and his yearning for the days when sexual encounters were more sporting: “I know this is how I get paid but it’s not really how I wanna get laid.” On the cutesy-pie ‘Me & You Together Song’, we hear about a dream in which “we went to Winter Wonderland and it was shit but we were happy,” which will be keenly felt by anyone who’s entered Hyde Park’s festive circle of hell.
Sometimes we find him in the throes of a full-blown existential crisis, as on the yearning acoustic ballad ‘Playing On My Mind’, which sees him muse, “Will I live and die in a band?” You can’t quite detect from the tone whether he still thinks that would be a good thing.
But that’s not to say this is the sound of wallowing, or self-pity – more that it’s totally, refreshingly unfiltered – musically and lyrically. Nobody can tell The 1975 where their boundaries lie. No one can tell them to stay in their lane. And as such, they push at everything. Where some tracks have lyrics to chew over, others employ words only as a means to set a mood. ‘Yeah I Know’, probably the best of the itchy, glitchy electronic tracks on the album, has just two lyrics – “Pick a card / Hit that shit” – which Matty delivers in a barely recognisable vocal, fidgeting, restlessly, over broken beats.
As deeply as Matty voyages into his own head, we also see him making real-world connections too. Only once in their history have The 1975 invited a guest to appear on a record, and that was No Rome on ‘ABIIOR’s ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’.
On ‘Notes…’, FKA Twigs lends her extraordinary, extraterrestrial vocal talent to two songs (‘If You’re Too Shy…’, ‘What Should I Say’). And Matty’s dad, the actor Tim Healy, appears on ‘Don’t Worry’, a song he wrote the basis of when Matty was a child. The celebrated Phoebe Bridgers, meanwhile, sings verses on a track that crystallises Healy’s views on religion – historically as much a recurring theme on his social media feed as in his lyrics. The elegiac ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ describes a search for a higher power, a conflict with a non-binary identity and a desire to be a small part of a bigger thing. The latter is something that we might never have expected from Healy in his pomp.
So yes, ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ takes a wrecking ball to Matty’s ego. And yes, their homework is late and it shows. This album, clearly, is the work of a shifting period for the band, one that begins with an ambition to save the world via Greta Thunberg’s stirring mandate to the band’s fans (‘The 1975’) but ends in the tight embrace of the band itself on the sweet, sentimental ‘Guys’. Were the screen to fade and the credits to roll on the band’s career, ‘Guys’ is the song that would be playing.
But, oddly enough, it’s worked out for them in the end. As the human race goes to hell in a handcart due to the coronavirus crisis and ensuing self-isolation, The 1975 have made the album at the end of the world.
Timing has frequently been on Healy’s side – see how prescient ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ seems now that online relationships are all we have left. While there are undoubtedly lyrics here that’ll spook you out – “I don’t like going outside so bring me everything here” on ‘People’; “Go outside? Seems unlikely,” on ‘Frail State Of Mind’ – ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ doesn’t attempt anything so crass as to define a time. It’s a bullet dodged in that respect, as it’s landing precisely when the world has shunted on its axis, a global paradigm shift that no songwriter could have predicted.
Instead of issuing another state-of-the-world album, The 1975 have somehow put out an album made for introspection and headphone listening and dancing around your living room, something deep and sprawling and occasionally silly to dig deep into over many listens, during which your favourite track will shift on a daily basis. Something that requires time and attention – something just right for now.
As for what’s next: the paradigm shift may well have played into the hands of 1975 fans –Matty and George are holed up in the studio and working on new material for the band. The end of this era is nothing to fear. This album – this go-anywhere, do-anything record – doesn’t so much tie up loose ends as create more. As we all might be wise to remember right now, there are no endings – only new beginnings.
External Album Reviews