The 1975 – ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ review: back to their very best

After a phase of experimentation, the band’s fifth album is succinct, cuttingly self-aware, and boasts some of their most-direct pop hits in years

Whether he’s attempting to nail down the fraying outline of post-modernity on hope-in-the-apocalypse epic (2018’s ‘Love It If We Made It’) or writing a pounding ‘80s synth ballad about illogical, all consuming guises of of jealousy (2016’s ‘Somebody Else’), there’s a relentlessness to The 1975 frontman Matty Healy’s lyrical mind, where little is off bounds. Name another songwriter brazen enough to reference the French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord, the crashing Greek economy, and “the duality of art and reality” on a self-professed LGBT+ anthem called ‘Loving Someone’ – if he wasn’t so bloody brilliant at it, the whole endeavour would be exhaustingly pretentious, and this is the line that Healy constantly seems to teeter upon. In music, a lot of stock is currently placed on the idea of relatability – meanwhile, he’s a thoroughly unreliable, occasionally unlikeable, narrator. It sets him apart as one of the more interesting frontmen of the present day.

Awash with spoken-word segues and stuttering ambient soundscapes that drifted forth like musical water on blotting paper, the band’s previous two records –  ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ and ’Notes on a Conditional Form’ – felt like a distinct gear-change from The 1975’s breakthrough mouthful of a second album: 2016’s ‘I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It’. Their most recent record, ‘Notes…’ was particularly experimental and, in places, overwrought: a studio-nerd’s wet dream, boasting a a couple of gold-cast hits – the exceptional ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’ and curveball head-banger ‘People’ – and mostly pulling from UK garage, house, two-step, dancehall, reggae, and even classical symphony across its sprawling runtime. Put it like this, it’s certainly not their most succinct statement to date.

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On the band’s fifth album, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’, the band have tightened things up; it starts with Healy’s songwriting, his most contradictory and intriguing yet, frequently turning his pen back on himself. “We’re experiencing life through the postmodern lens” he rants, mimicking a past self on the now-traditional self-titled opening track. That this admission takes place shortly after Healy declares he’s not sure whether he’s got a boner or not somehow makes it all the more amusing. Unlike previous iterations, this version – indebted to LCD Soundsystem’s finest moment ‘All My Friends’ – deviates from the usual lyrics to take aim at his role in the band’s own past. “Oh call it like it is!!” present-day Healy despairs. “You’re making an aesthetic out of not doing well and mining all the bits of you you think you can sell.”

The jazz-licked ‘Human Too’ directly references the controversy Manchester-born frontman attracted in 2019 for briefly detonating a fake suicide vest in the music video for ‘People’. “I’m sorry about the bomb thing, that’s overdue,” he sings, here, “I’m sorry that I quite liked seeing myself on the news”. His Loose Women-presenting mum Denise Welch even gets a shoutout on driving-home-for-Christmas song ‘Wintering’ – originally penned for the band’s previous group Drive Like You Do. “Mum’s not a fan of that line about her back she said it makes her sound frumpy and old,” Healy sings, “I said ‘WOMAN! YOU ARE 64 YEARS OLD!’” 

Atop the restless and jittering folk-rock of ‘Part of the Band’ a crisis of self unfolds in real-time as Healy pens some of his most cutting lines yet. Shortly after wittily ripping into a hashtag-empowerment “chic barista” penning viral blogs about ejaculation, Healy wonders why he feels too superior singing from the comfort of a high horse. “Am I ironically woke? The butt of my joke? Or am I just some post-coke, average, skinny bloke calling his ego imagination?” he asks nobody in particular, getting in there first with self-deprecation.

Musically, at least, this feels like a kind of prequel to The 1975’s last two records – branded the Music For Cars era – and the first half of ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ in particular harks right back to the bright, punchy, ‘80s-informed sound of ‘I like it…’ The slap-bass slathered ‘Happiness’ is the band’s best pop hit in years, while ‘Looking For Somebody To Love’ is propelled by enormous, plasticky stabs of Springteeny melody. A healthy dollop of classic rock runs through the record’s DNA, too – though it’s heavily coated in Healy’s ever-present treatment of irony: The Waterboys, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Hall & Oates all linger in the background as influences.

‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ enlists the seemingly ubiquitous Jack Antonoff – Bleachers frontman whose production credits include Taylor Swift, Lorde and more – as a producer and his own distinctive style gels well with the second half’s folk-leaning creations. There’s also an intriguing list of collaborators on board: as well Korean-American singer-songwriter Japanese Breakfast, Bon Iver producer BJ Burton and folksy Dirty Hit label-mate Benjamin Francis Leftwich, the record features contributions from the mysterious meme-collaging producer Sabrina The Teenage DJ, and a vocal duet with Carly Holt, who is married to the band’s very own Adam Hann.

Combining the band’s slightly sidelined knack for writing huge, immediately memorable pop bangers with the more complex, neurotic lyrical voice of The 1975’s more recent releases, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ feels like the right next step after pushing experimental excess to its logical conclusion, and is comparatively lean with just eleven tracks to its name. The 1975: At Their Very Best – the lofty, and slightly tongue-in-cheek title they’ve given to their upcoming tour – might be infuriatingly, brilliantly cocky, but let’s face facts: it’s also pretty accurate.

Details

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The 1975 - Being Funny In A Foreign Language

  • Release date: October 14, 2022
  • Record label: Dirty Hit
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