Music Critic Dan Smith revisits The 1975’s debut album following its tenth anniversary
2023 marks the 10 year anniversary of The 1975’s cult classic self-titled debut album. The record is seen as a quintessential piece of the era in which it was released, tumblr aesthetics were flourishing and artists like Arctic Monkeys and Lorde were at the pinnacle of indie culture. Matty Healy, the band’s frontman described the album in three words: an ‘apocalyptic teenage romance’. This almost oxymoronic summation of the album by Healy relates to the idea that as teens we don’t feel as if we have any responsibility for anything but the things that do happen to us feel like the most important things that could ever happen, which in my opinion describes the feeling of the album to an absolute tee.
The album opens with a track entitled ‘The 1975’, a feature that has since become synonymous with the band. Healy’s intentions for the track stem from his affinity for video games which often have a recognisable ‘startup’ sound that he aimed to emulate with this song as when it plays at the beginning of the album it is like the band is ‘checking in’ or ‘starting up again’. The song itself immediately captivates the listener with its exciting electric and pensive sound which introduces the bands signature experimental style brilliantly and establishes their identity from the get go. As the opening track fades out we quickly transition into the punchy drums of the second track ‘The City’ which through explosive rhythms explores themes of going out into a big city from a small town and finding yourself but also feeling small and irrelevant.
‘M.O.N.E.Y’ is the next track which Healy described as being him ‘at his most self loathing’, the song juxtaposes old school funk sounds from artists like Prince with new school electronic music. Healy has noted an inspiration for the song was from The Streets singer Mike Skinner and their 2002 album, Original Pirate Material. He wanted to replicate the authenticity of the ‘street poetry’ in Skinner’s work and be straight up as opposed to Healy’s typical metaphorical songwriting, so this track is a bit of an outlier in that sense. Following this is the indie classic, and arguably the band’s biggest song to date, ‘Chocolate’. Healy stated that this is one of the most fun songs to play and it is equally fun to listen to with buoyant synths and enjoyable vocals making it evident why this track is a fan favourite. The song is an ode to their relationship with authority figures in their town and how ‘small town boredom’ can lead to people doing things they maybe shouldn’t.
One of my personal favourites, ‘Sex’ is up next which is the most aggressive track of the album with hostile electric guitar and drums, creating an intense but great listening experience, this song, in particular, is amazing to hear live. Healy himself has alluded to how ‘Sex’ isn’t dressed up or romanticised in themes of love but rather a brutally honest account of his own experiences. The record’s most organic track ‘Talk!’ is next, the band state the song came about from them just ‘jamming out’, which is unusual from The 1975. Nevertheless, ‘Talk!’ is a fun track with very strong lyricism which details how Healy can manipulate social situations and influence how he is perceived by how he talks rather than what he is saying.
The first interlude of the album follows this; ‘An Encounter’ is a peaceful sounding track, conceived by the band stripping down their later song ‘Robbers’ and discovering all these ethereal sounds that they used to create this interlude. In terms of the wider narrative of the album ‘An Encounter’ is the first meeting between the two characters from their aforementioned song ‘Robbers’, according to Healy. Following this is the beautifully melancholy track ‘Heart Out’ which is an absolute highlight of the album. The song evidently has lots of 80’s style influences in its production with its upbeat rhythms and utilisation of the saxophone. But the track follows the album’s trend of juxtaposing lyrics and themes with how the song sounds, as it introspectively examines one of Healy’s past relationships where even though they didn’t see eye to eye or understand each other the romance of it all spurred them to stay together.
‘Settle Down’ follows this which is another upbeat and enjoyable listen. Healy described the track as the bands ‘full on pop song’ whilst giving credit to records such as Phil Collins’ Facevalue and Peter Gabriel’s So as being great influences on the song. He intended for the track to have an ‘undeniable vibe’ which he
certainly delivers on with the eclectic rhythms and guitar riffs creating an incredibly catchy and memorable pop anthem. Following this is a true 1975 classic, ‘Robbers’, which was stated to be the song that made the band really believe they could be successful, with good reason. The narrative of the track was derived from a ‘perfect dream’ Healy had which led him to be very invested in the two ‘characters’ in the song, who were later made synonymous with the track through the iconic music video for the song. Healy is at his strongest vocally in this track and this alongside more downbeat guitar riffs and drums makes for another intense but rewarding listening experience as we venture through the story of Healy’s ‘Robbers’.
However, the band immediately transitions back into upbeat synths and pop rhythms with ‘Girls’. Another indie-pop classic of the band which they’ve stated as being ‘very fun to play’ with the vibrant guitar riffs of Adam Hann and joyous bass-lines from Ross Macdonald creating yet another incredibly enjoyable track. The second interlude of the album is next. Entitled ‘12’ the track gives off a sense of hopefulness and sanguinity, which could very likely have been the bands intention as they wanted it to sound like how they were feeling at the time, when they had just finished their first American tour, which I’m sure would have been a time of great optimism and excitement about the bands future. This feeling most definitely comes through in the interlude.
‘She Way Out’ follows this which only further embodies the indie rock and pop sound seen throughout the album with Adam Hann’s electric guitar riffs once again prove to be a highlight of the track. Whilst not a stand out, ‘She Way Out’ is definitely a consistent track which is easy on the ears. Following this is ‘Menswear’, a hybrid track of sorts as the song begins with an extended electronic instrumental section before Healy comes in with some fast paced vocals towards the end. It’s their fastest song lyrically and centres around Healy’s experiences with weddings and the drug culture at them. A catchy and memorable track for sure!
The penultimate song on the album is ‘Pressure’. This is some of Healy’s best vocal work on the record in my opinion and really shows off both his lyricism and vocal ability, which fans have become accustomed to in the band’s later work. ‘Pressure’ is themed around his relationship with his upbringing as due to his already-famous parents he was in the eye of the media from a very young age and so the song focuses on how this exposure affected him and his family. The record ends on a sombre and thoughtful note with ‘Is there somebody who can watch you?’. Healy has stated that this is one of the most important songs he will ever write and it’s the barest he’s ever laid himself. The track lacks lyrics but more than makes up for this in poignancy and meaning, with Healy dedicating the song to his little brother and addresses his struggles with leaving him when he left the house. An emotional and slow ending to a vastly effervescent album.
Whilst this was the debut record for The 1975, it felt much more mature than that with much of the band’s playing and songwriting being absolutely beyond their years. The album set in motion many things that have since become signature pieces of the band’s music like tackling serious and emotive subjects but juxtaposing these with upbeat pop synths and rhythms. The sheer brutal honesty of Healy throughout the album created such a real relationship with the listener and ultimately was a catalyst for the band gaining such a large cult following after its release. The issues touched on in the record of course still have great relevance to young people around the world which has enabled it to stand the test of time, having great prominence in culture, even ten years later. The record encapsulates life as a teenager and introduced the world to the band’s distinctive sound, laying the groundwork for the four number one albums that followed.
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