By Shelby Sveiven
The 1975’s fifth studio album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, while in a way a return to form after two and a half years of radio silence and a world on fire, is also an exploration of the intimacy of the human experience—not cynically or ironically, as their usual style—but boldly and honestly. In a way, over the past five albums, lead singer Matty Healy has gone from talking about addiction and teenage obsession with swagger, such as in “Menswear” on their self-titled 2013 album, to finding a love that is genuine, and makes him want to get better, in “When We Are Together”.
On previous albums, this shift was discussed indirectly, such as “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”, where Healy discusses addiction through the lens of a conspiracy theorist named Danny, whom he relates to having to “search the street when he’s on vacation”, and speaks to heroin almost as a lover, who “collapse[s] [his] veins wearing beautiful shoes”.
On Being Funny, however, gone is the shield of nonchalantly discussing addiction and unfulfilling relationships, and instead Healy becomes open with the listener, with nothing to hide behind. The band’s shortest album to date, boasting 11 tracks, a mere half of its predecessor Notes on a Conditional Form, it is immediate in its messaging, and leaves little room for ambient tracks and long stretches of instrumentals. Each song is distinct, from the second single “Happiness” boasting slick, neon dance-floor instrumentals to the folksy, self-referential “Wintering”. It seems that after four albums spent running away from their message, masking it behind black and white, drug jokes, bombastic performances, and two albums about how the Internet messes with human relationships, the 1975 arrive at the point: love.
Cliché, embarrassing, love. On the record, Healy is unabashed in his emotions, his sympathy. The album’s opening track—self-titled, like all of their other opening tracks—offers a kind of State of the Union for the band, as is the ritual every album. Healy addresses his fans directly, and the pressure that young people face in the modern world. He drones, “I’m sorry if you’re livin’ and you’re seventeen”, and cuts to the heart of the matter with “young people [being used] as collateral” in current affairs. The 1975 have always been self aware, but this genuine address to their teenage fans is new territory for them, and as opposed to being peers with them on their self-titled album or identifying with the recklessness of being young on their later work, the band is finally at the place of settling into an adulthood in which they’re equipped to address their fans with reflection.
This newfound wisdom is a lot of what makes Being Funny so intriguing, especially as someone who has been listening to them since before their third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. A key example of this is the parallels between the songs “Be My Mistake” and “When We Are Together”. In the former, from A Brief Inquiry, Healy sings about a relationship he realizes isn’t going to work, but asks the person he’s addressing to be his “mistake” and even though he knows he doesn’t love her, doesn’t want the relationship to end. However, two albums later, he’s finally ready to be fully vulnerable with someone he truly cares for, without reservations or regrets. On “When We Are Together”, he recalls the mundanity of his relationship, with small differences between him and his significant other such as likes and dislikes. On his partner’s affinity for scented candles, he happily recalls, “Oh, I’ll never get that smell out of my bag,” and says that the only time he feels like he’ll get healthier is when he’s with his significant other, a much less cynical—and much more vulnerable—take on love than their previous work. In another song on the album, “About You”, when seemingly talking about the same relationship, Healy sings, “Hold on and hope that we’ll find our way back in the end,” insinuating that even though the relationship didn’t work out, rather than holding resentment for the other person or finding comfort in temporary flings, Healy would rather hold out hope for something more emotionally fulfilling, and have trust that things will work out the way they’re meant to.
Other parallels between tracks can be found between “Wintering” and “She Lays Down”, the latter from their third album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, and between “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” and “Love It If We Made It”, from A Brief Inquiry.
So if you thought the 1975 couldn’t expand their sound any more, think again. Being Funny isolates the essence of what makes the band great, and doubles the power in half the runtime. Blending retro sounds, old themes, and a newfound wisdom, Healy and the rest of the band synthesize the meaning of their work, and its importance in the modern world on their fifth, and arguably strongest, record.