Who would have guessed that an early frontrunner for 2016’s most unpredictable album would be by The 1975? When lead single ‘Love Me’ was unveiled late last year, it challenged all preconceptions about the band led by Matty Healy. But the whole album – ludicrously titled ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’ – will make you think and reassess even more than that song did. The 17 tracks’ 75 minutes are no easy listen, but the album is hugely eclectic – there’s everything from semi-rapping to post-rock instrumentals and acoustic tearjerkers. Here’s what it sounds like…
1. The 1975
This minute-and-a-half self-titled track is what you might call a gentle intro to the bizarre and baffling world of ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ – shimmering sounds fade into focus before halting abruptly. Matty’s left singing, backed by a choir whose intrinsic purpose seems to be making him sound like he’s surrounded by a glistening halo of light. Even with the song’s bitesize length, Matty still finds time to play around and try to confuse, switching words around so you get lyrics like “playing with the air/Breathing in your hair”. That’s nothing compared to what follows, though…
2. Love Me
The first song to be revealed from the album is a “post-ironic” comment on selfie culture and the 21st century’s vacuous obsession with celebrity. Matty says it was inspired by him strutting around on stage with his shirt undone, arms outstretched, with hordes of teenage girls screaming up at him. It’s him taking the piss out of the world and himself, while his bandmates show off licks inspired by ‘Fame’-era Bowie and INXS. Flamboyant, cheeky and very fun.
Never one to shy away from talking about serious or deeply personal problems (just go read any interview with Matty), ‘UGH!’ details the frontman’s struggles with cocaine. It could be self-indulgent or self-pitying, but it’s not. Instead, it’s very clever, darkly funny and tells it as it is – albeit with some flowery language thrown in for good effect.
This is second verse: “This conversation’s not about reciprocation no more/But I’m gonna wait until you’ve finished so I can talk some more/About me and my things, my car, my living/And how I’m giving it up, giving it up again”. It’s such an accurate portrayal of narcissistic 3am conversations when everyone’s got a bit too stuck into the gear, it’s a wonder ‘UGH!’ wasn’t made the office Christmas party for the whole of the country last year. Still, there’s always this year.
4. A Change Of Heart
This bubbling ballad matches meandering synth lines and jittering guitars with George Daniel’s 808 beats. It’s as pastel-hued as the album artwork, or the colours that light up the band from behind and below at their recent gigs. ‘A Change Of Heart’ is also the most self-referential song on the record, in terms of casting its ear back to what Matty sang on the band’s self-titled debut. The line “You used to have a face straight out of a magazine” circles back to their debut’s ‘Robbers’; “I wasn’t told you’d be this cold” is probably a reference to ‘Settle Down”s “You’re cold and I burn” line; “I feel as though I was deceived/I never found love in the city” is his admittance that what he sang in ‘The City’ hasn’t come true.
‘A Change Of Heart’ also depicts a girl Matty’s been seeing who he’s changing his mind about, realising that her looks aren’t enough of a reason to stay with her. There are plenty of cutting remarks aimed at her (“And you were coming across as clever/Then you lit the wrong end of your cigarette”), and himself (“I’ll quote On The Road like a twat”), plus the return of ‘Love Me”s slave-to-technology observations (“And then you took a picture of your salad/And put it on the internet”).
5. She’s American
Adam Hann’s guitar lines on this ode to a girl across the pond are twitchy and spidery, cutting beneath funk bass and a subtle sax solo. Meanwhile, Matty details cultural differences between him and his American lover, who’s attracted to things he can’t understand (“If she likes it cos we just don’t eat/And we’re socially relevant, she’s American”).
6. If I Believe You
This is the point where things start to get really bizarre. ‘If I Believe You’ has the band delving into gospel, but it’s not so Matty can declare his love for Jesus. Instead, it’s about him being an atheist who’s thinking about turning to religion, but only on the condition his pain and suffering stops (“If I believe you, will that make it stop?”). Again, there’s a breezy brass solo, plus a full on gospel choir to give Matty’s pleas some urgency. It closes on the singer repeatedly asking “If I’m lost then how can I find myself?”
7. Please Be Naked
The first instrumental track on the album. The title might suggest something louche and sexy, but it’s actually very sombre and expansive. The same few piano notes ring out slowly and sadly, going round in small circles as hissing and twinkling sounds gradually build, fall and then build again over the top. Towards the start of its fourth minute, it swells then suddenly ditches everything to leave only its piano roots.
Distorted guitars gently ascend through swathes of noise as Matty sets things up for the next track, singing softly “And you say I’ve lost my head/Can you see it, can you see it?” The phrase, and concept of having “lost my head” is a recurring motif on the record, too, popping up in songs like ‘If I Believe You’. Midway through, the track rockets into skyscraping post-rock territory, like it’s flying not just above a city, but above the entire planet.
9.The Ballad Of Me And My Brain
As ‘Lostmyhead’ hints, this next track is about Matty’s mental health. It begins with him crying “I think I’ve gone mad, isn’t that so sad?” before jumping on buses and cars, and dodging autograph hunters in the search for his lost brain. The Sainsbury’s reference (“It’s likely in a Sainsbury’s, flirting with the girls that waited for me”) will make you do a double take on first listen, but, as ludicrous as it first seems, it’s actually a pretty smart insight into Matty’s mind and the side effects of sudden fame. The whole song’s three minutes long, but it feels like it flies by in seconds, the frontman’s voice cracking and rasping all the way through. Easily one of the album’s standouts.
10. Somebody Else
More 808-ish beats present themselves on this crisp ballad about a partner in a dying relationship moving on to someone else. sneers Matty over snapping beats. “I can’t give you my soul cos we’re never alone“.
11. Loving Someone
Immediately after that takedown of romance comes a high-pitched voice declaring “You should be loving someone/Yeah, you should be loving someone.” This song isn’t really an answer to ‘Somebody Else’, even if its chorus is less nihilistic than its predecessor.
It’s a half-rapped social observation, including lines on how the media and popular culture conditions its youth (“It’s better if we keep them perplexed/Better if we make them want the opposite sex”). There’s also the golden lyric “I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques”, which is an outstanding highlight on a record full of brilliant lines, and a spoken word bit from Matty that’s buried low in the mix.
12. I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
Another skittering, expansive, largely instrumental track. Fans discovered recently that if you click on the banner on the band’s Soundcloud page, you’re taken to some words that were presumed to be the lyrics to this song. In fact, there are only snatches of words here, so that’s probably just a poem Matty either wrote after coming up with the album’s title, or one inspired by it.
13. The Sound
The album’s second single is one that we likened to Stardust’s ‘The Music Sounds Better With You’ when it was first premiered at a gig in Liverpool. It’s all down to that piercing synth stab that just doesn’t let up.
‘The Sound’ is one of the record’s most upbeat songs, both musically and lyrically – the chorus at least. The verses around it are filled with jibes and deceit (“You’re so conceited that I say that I love you/What does it matter if I lie to you?” combines both), until it all erupts with a final, glorious diss (“We left things to protect my mental health/But you’ll call me when you’re bored and you’re playing with yourself”). It’s all capped off by a triumphantly scorching solo from Adam.
14. This Must Be My Dream
Conversely, ‘This Must Be My Dream’ starts off positive, with Matty finding a girl who’ll “rearrange my world” before it all goes sour. “I thought it wasn’t love,” he sighs at one point, realising he was wrong, but it’s too late – “You got excited and now you find your girl/Won’t get you undressed or care about your beating chest.” A sparkling melody elevates everything to despondent new heights, while another caramel sax solo slaps a whole load of sophistication onto Matty’s misfortune.
If Matty has a subject he’s best at writing about, it’s the fucked up individuals he meets and observes. ‘Paris’ is a masterclass in that. Its main focus is a coked up girl he meets at a party, who “had to leave cos she couldn’t hack it/Not enough noise and too much racket”. Later, there’s the implication that she’s moaning about missing a party because “her friend kept cutting her wrists”, and being materialistic (“She pointed at the bag of her dreams in a well posh magazine”).
He’s also, as evidenced earlier on the album, great at writing about his own issues, and this song is no different. There’s the romantic infidelities (“I’ve got two left feet and I’m starting to cheat on my girlfriend again”), and his well-publicised addictions (“As the crowd cheered for an overdose”, “I said ‘I’m done babe, I’m out of the scene’/But I was picking up on Bethnal Green/She said I’d been romanticising heroin”). The lyrics are sad enough as it is, but combined with the glittering, melancholy mesh that the remaining Adam, George and bassist MacDonald build beneath, it’s utterly depressing.
This would ordinarily be the album’s tearjerker anyway, best listened to with a bumper box of tissues within arm’s reach, no matter what song it followed. But given ‘Paris” effect, it’s made even more intense. Matty sings about the death of his grandma over acoustic guitar and soft keys, reminiscing on their times together and imagining what he’d tell her if she walked into the room.
There’s a return to his questioning of religion, trying to give himself some comfort (“I know that God doesn’t exist, and all the palaver surrounding it/But I like to think that you can hear me sometimes”), but the most heartbreaking bit comes right at the end when the music starts to dim and he croaks “I’m bereft, you see/I think you can tell/I haven’t been doing too well.”
17. She Lays Down
The album closes on a totally acoustic song and the mood stays just as low as before. Over fingerpicked arpeggios, the frontman sings about his mother’s postnatal depression, sighing about how she “just wants to feel something” and prays for the plane she’s on to crash “simply to alleviate the pain”. It’s a subdued end to a hugely ambitious, often surreal record, but it’s also a fitting conclusion. It reinforces that notion of The 1975’s unpredictability, veering far and away from ’80s pop and funk influences, and into something so simple, but just as effective.