Some artists approach each new album like a fresh creative era. The 1975, however, have located the fast-forward button, particularly in recent months. In the last year alone, they have crafted themselves in a multitude of different personas, whistling through flamboyant, hedonistic screamo (‘People’) skittering nightbus-core (‘Frail State of Mind’) The Corrs gone squiffy (‘Me and You Together Song’) and at times respectfully absent figures; on climate protest anthem ‘The 1975’, Matty Healy gives the platform over to environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
With this in mind, new single ‘The Birthday Party’ doesn’t feel particularly unexpected in the way that it shakes up expectations for the band’s next record all over again. A foot-scuffing stream-of-consciousness, it’s completely lacking in conventional structure. Instead, it’s packed full of The Sims soundtrack country-twang, and topped off with a gusty sax solo. Motoring forward on atop a lazy drum groove, Matty Healy reflects on society’s relationship with intoxication and issue-avoidance, breezily recounting a birthday party preceded by an earlier piss-up, and mimicking a robotic choir of girls asking “do you wanna come and get fucked up?”. Healy’s sober narrator is trying to resist. “Now I’m clean, it would seem, let’s go somewhere I’ll be seen,” he says.
It’s telling that his priority is to be seen by others in an age where every last aspect of our everyday lives can meticulously documented and uploaded to a virtual cloud. The 1975’s previous album ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ explores our fraught relationship with the internet a great deal, and features a Siri-vocalled centrepiece in which a man falls in love with his phone assistant.
Continuing this thread ‘The Birthday Party’ is matched by a truly barmy video, which sees a digitalised likeness of Healy checking into a detox centre, and journeying through a shimmering woodland inhabited by everyone from Pedobear and Pepe the Frog, to the distracted boyfriend meme.
Sweeping issues under the carpet and covering things up morphs into a wider theme here: from the laughable scenario of turning on the tap so a partner can’t hear you pissing, the glossing over of recent controversies in the music industry. “They were gonna go to the Pinegrove show, they didn’t know all about the weird stuff so they just left it” The weird stuff Healy references? The band’s singer Evan Stephens Hall being accused of sexual coercion in 2017 – the group are now back to touring and releasing records after taking a break.
Eventually Healy avatar finds a kind of connection with eerie likenesses of his bandmates, snogs himself, bids goodbye to his mirror image. We leave him dancing around a barren virtual world as night falls. It all makes for a strange, and slightly unwieldy experience. But honestly, what else did you expect from The 1975?