Oh, the struggle of feeling pressure to publish a review on release day! Especially one as deep and sweeping as the latest from The 1975!
I’m not complaining though. I might be a bit scatterbrained, which could be a function of the album. At 22 tracks long, it is a lot to take in. It has one of the longest album roll-outs in recent memory. The lead single was a sharp left turn for the band—one that doesn’t reflect the feeling of the rest of the album at first listen. Yet there’s an urgency in that song that permeates the rest of the record. All of the songs are bathed in the usual 1975 sheen, but there’s a greyness that overshadows the entirety of the album.
When an album starts with a four minute monologue by Greta Thunberg, that seamlessly transitions from Greta’s straightforward exhortation, “it is time to rebel” to the pumping “Wake up, wake up, wake up!” that jolts the listener in “People,” you might think you’re listening to a Rage Against the Machine goes post-punk album for a second. Although the rest of the record is markedly tamer, the tone has been set, and the feeling lingers.
The bordering-on-dystopian feel emerges in many of the more sparse songs on the latter half of the album,and a series of extended interludes that seem to exist to lull the listener into a trance. “The Birthday Party” is an effervescent blend of all of these elements, expressed well in a music video that explores a virtual world of going offline, with an uncanny valley version of Matty Healy navigating a fantastical, colorful world populated by memes. It’s a little unsettling but also really calming and oddly poetic given everyone’s need to unplug from the internet COVID fatigue.
The cheeriest songs on the album are bright yet somewhat subdued at the same time. “Me & You Together Song” and “Guys” are the “Sincerity is Scarys” of this album. There is no “deep in my feels” “Somebody Else” on Notes… but these songs are upbeat tunes to chillax to that somehow are still in that grey vibe set early on. It sounds like that wouldn’t make sense, but I don’t know how else to articulate it. The greyness doesn’t overshadow certain endearing qualities (“Guys”) or over the top diatribes (“Roadkill”). Every message is conveyed clearly, though not always succinctly. Not being succinct is okay though—as one tweet I saw last week by Brasko put it:
The 1975 has so many copycats now—so many. But they say something. Does it always come out well? No. But something they say. Matty is brutally honest if nothing else.
One disappointment I had with this record is that there’s no clear “The Sound,” “Love If We Made It” or “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” moment. It feels like the band took the ideas from all of the deep cuts from their first three albums and spent their fourth album exploring those—and then some. “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied” and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” emerge as two clear frontrunners for personal favorites (gosh, it’s painfully obvious I’ve been reading political Twitter, isn’t it?). The former is a sweeping anthem that features Matty rapping, distorted bluesy guitar, and a choir. The latter is a classic The 1975, shimmering 80s guitar-driven dance rock bop—but still ever so slightly in that grey I mentioned earlier.
This album is one where I somehow wish they trimmed more of the fat and enjoy all of the ideas explored at the same time. I’m glad Notes is a part of their discography overall.