There’s not much uniting The 1975 with viciously experimental Sacramento hip-hop bruisers Death Grips. Or at least that’s what I thought. Then came probably the biggest UK music news story of the last week. “The hardest part of any relationship is to say goodbye,” read a cryptic comic strip posted to 1975 singer Matt Healy’s Twitter on May 31, seeming to suggest the end for the bubblegum-indie behemoths. “As much as we might like things to stay the same, change is an inevitable part of life. We can’t simply go on forever – always staying the same, never evolving. So we must leave, with a parting ‘we love you’ – we are already gone.” Many fans fretted it meant the end. But like Death Grips, who last year announced they’d parted ways before quickly plotting new tour dates and new music in a move that mirrored nicely the confusion and chaos of their brilliant brain-wrecking horror-rap, the news was swiftly followed by the announcement of November UK dates and a “new identity” ahead of a follow-up to their best-selling 2013 debut album. It was smoke and mirrors.
Alright so The 1975’s actions were a pretty obvious stunt. That self-titled album flew to Number 1 in the UK charts and turned them into one of the country’s biggest new bands, making a teen pin-up of Healy along the way. Throwing all that away never seemed likely. So when the aforementioned comic strip was posted online – complete with an admittedly funny dig at NME after our readers voted them Worst Band at last year’s NME Awards – few were fooled. It felt scripted. Like someone either in the band or the marketing team at their label them trying to wrangle bigger, better headlines than simply “The 1975 announce a new tour.”
— ?? (@Truman_Black) May 31, 2015
A more intriguing take on it though is to wonder if it was a line drawn under their shimmer-pop polish to date, in particular for Healy – whose music taste is broader than you’d guess from the Phoenix-do-late-wave-emo radio-bait of songs like ‘The City’ and ‘Chocolate’. My Bloody Valentine, Velvet Underground and 1980s Glasgow synth experimenters The Blue Nile all featured on a Spotify playlist he posted last year, while on social media you’ll regularly find him talking up everything from the trap rumbles of US hip-hop rising talents Bobby Shmurda and OG Maco to the contemplative folk of cult London songwriter Maria Hackman. Asked by an interviewer in 2014 if he had to rid the world of all music but one song he picked the ambient chill of ‘An Ending’ by Brian Eno.
Sure, these could just be empty shout-outs – name-dropping the right trendy and credible artists in an attempt to re-frame the conversation around his own music among critics. I don’t reckon so though: his favourite albums – Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ and Phil Collins’s ‘Face Value’, as told to The Guardian in October – are unashamedly populist. And why bother? There’s a darkness to Healy too that, were he to claw into on whatever the group do next, could prove really interesting. “I wasn’t a heroin addict – I never lost it to heroin,” he explained it that same Guardian feature. “But I was a coke addict big-time. I was 18, I dabbled in everything. I wanted to be Jack Kerouac. I thought I was as decadent as all of that.”
— The 1975 (@the1975) June 2, 2015
Right now we’re being left guessing. Where next for The 1975 then? Gauzy Kevin Shields-indebted swirls of guitar hysteria? A comeback single that channels Chicago drill scene bass quakes? “Our projected identity must change not only visually but philosophically – how do you do that?” last week’s cartoon asked. “Firstly we must reclaim our identity and repossess our control of it… Until then there won’t be any pop music or dancing with long hair.” It might be all bullshit. Album number two from the Manchester band may very well retread the grinning jangles of their debut and sell similarly by the bucket load. You might argue their social media stunt this week was transparent and cynical. But reinventing themselves, quite probably to the anxious laughs of their label bosses, who’d quite happily take another set of songs exactly like the first, is admirable and to be applauded. What exactly the band have been cooking up I guess we’ll find out in November, at those UK dates by which time new material will surely be out there. Who knows? Maybe there’s still time for a guest verse from Death Grips’ MC Ride.