Earlier in the month, I asked myself the question, “What’s a band that I like, but am also willing to rip the piss out of?” and you can guess the band that came to mind… The Smiths. Unfortunately, poking fun at a man like Morrissey felt like digging through the dirt for low-hanging fruit, so I figured I’d pick someone a little closer to home; someone that represented my own genuine ambivalence and fluctuation in acknowledgement of my varying musical and personal biases. Who better than the 1975 to drop-kick my own sense of musical and ethical superiority right in the face?
I grew up with The 1975. They were one of the first concerts I ever attended in Glasgow, though I was far too sober to prepare myself for the sheer magnitude of 14,000 adolescent girls screaming alternating versions of “Fuck me, Matty!” at the top of their lungs. The band were the newest wave of mainstream existential pop, a split soundtrack that encompassed the lives we lived in our heads and the lives we lived in reality, despite the fact that most of us didn’t own guns and (probably) couldn’t score heroin. From listening to ‘Haunt // Bed’ as I wiped the tears of inexplicably soggy-eyed boyfriends, to blasting ‘Chocolate’ in the car with my sister on the way to self indulgent parties, they had it all; every adolescent emotion, every unresolved conflict, every ‘adult’ reference wrapped up into a nice little Tumblr-meets-Tarantino package. A sonic education in “How to Reference Beat Poetry and Not Be So Fucking Sad All the Time.”
Following the acquisition of an ‘adult’ card on my 18th birthday, my relationship with the 1975 adapted to cope with an explosion of post-pubescent and post-depressive musical enthusiasms. I listened to new albums, the kind of stuff that bands like The 1975 were always paying homage to, and understood the roots of each musical era throughout my life, whether it was the likes of Steely Dan or Coolio. More recently, when I finally returned to The 1975’s resounding stratosphere, it was with a new perspective – Matty Healy, the frontman, was a bit more of a dick than I remembered, and the notion of overtly Xeroxing somebody else’s lyrics or melody for such a large amount of his songs seemed a little skeezy. So, an idea was born. I wanted to develop a self aware tracklist, with an amalgamation of everything I liked then and everything I know now, ripped straight from the Matty Healy school of thought that being self aware seemingly cancels out being an asshole.
As such, here is the list of my top three favourite mellow tracks by The 1975, spanning the ages of when I was mostly around fifteen to sixteen, with a bunch of (affectionately) snotty commentary. I still like their music for what it is, I’m just slightly less enthralled by the appeal of shirtless hip-thrusting frontmen, even if they could hypothetically sustain an interesting chat about Seamus Heaney. To kick it all off, for those who enjoy the work of Joy Division, The Blue Nile and Prince, I’d highly recommend The 1975, as you’ll already know all the melodies!
1. A CHANGE OF HEART
“A Change of Heart” by The 1975. Composed of three notes, four minutes, and The 1975’s five thousandth reference to a) breasts, b) cigarettes, c) a growing disdain for women who own both a) breasts and b) cigarettes. Sexist? Maybe a little — depends how you slice it, just like the narrator’s journey from a girlfriend with a ‘face straight out of a magazine’ (an earlier reference to their 2013 track, “Robbers”) to ‘finding a girl who is equally pretty won’t be hard.’ It’s not necessarily a crowd stomping jive, or a political anthem designed to badger the masses, but it will get you thinking: Do I post too many photos of my salad on the internet? Does my boyfriend look shit and smell a bit? Am I really too old to be this stoned? The answer, dear friends, is always yes. My favourite lyric: “I’ll quote ‘On The Road’ like a twat, and wind my way out of the city.”
Why? With all the love in the world, Healy is definitely the type of bloke you could hop in the car with at 3:00AM on a twenty-minute nip to McDonald’s in a neighbouring town, and he’d still be comparing himself to a character like Sal Paradise. You’d pass the cashier window with a Big Mac and strawberry milkshake in hand and his head would be out the window, like some kind of esoteric curly-haired Basset Hound, peeling off quotes about his new life as a nomad – after all, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere,” he’d say, “so keep rolling under the stars.” And then maybe he’d take a big chomp from his Spicy Veggie Wrap, or extra large carton of McNuggets, or whatever the fuck wandering popstars eat, and you’d either find it deeply pretentious or strangely enamoring, depending on your relationship with your father and your proximity to Twitter’s ‘White Boy of the Month.’ What was I talking about? Ah yes, ‘A Change of Heart.’
For all the ribbing I (and many, many others) give Healy and The 1975, ‘A Change of Heart’ is still one of my favourite tracks by The 1975 to date, and Healy deserves a few brownie points for his self awareness in relation to the Kerouac lyric. With its coy and allusive smirking undertones, it’s the perfect song for the newly christened generation of overworked and underpaid pseudo-intellectuals like myself, who don’t like reading books but like referencing them at parties (the literary equivalent to people who bash out half-baked renditions of ‘Wonderwall’ on their home-lugged acoustic guitars). Alongside being one of Healy’s favourite self-released tracks, it’s a great ode to burgeoning self awareness, so pop on your headphones, shut your eyes, and bask in the glow of something a little simpler.
‘Menswear’ is also vastly underrated, partially because it’s a later track on their 2013 self-titled album, and partially because it’s fully instrumental for nearly two minutes. When Healy’s singing does eventually kick in, the track holds a PhD in flaunting the full The 1975 miscellanea of typecast references – sobbing brides begging for sedation, cocaine snorted off toilet seats, the act of ‘yoshing’ in people’s mouths (which, disappointingly, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Mario Kart character). It’s a quintessentially British ode to getting fucked up at weddings. As such, there’s not really a best lyric, though “I think I’ll say a couple of words, if you don’t mind – I never really got on with your bird the first time I met her out, dressed in nowt, telling everybody you were shagging about,” seems fitting.
I particularly like the way he pokes fun at himself in the lyric, “He looks just like me, but 6”3’ so I reckon you could knock him out,” a further self-aware nod to Healy’s status as a rake thin ‘rockstar,’ presumably equally unwilling to actually take a punch. Not to mention the typical narrative involving some faceless quasi-supermodel woman who’s unwaveringly insistent on sleeping with Healy, (and undoubtedly smoking her cigarettes in some very weird, inconvenient way, like upside down – if only cigarette manufacturers made their filters a distinct colour) though of course there’s very little mentioned, unlike the usual smorgasbord of hair colour, breast perceptibility, and one singular quirky personality trait. Perhaps that’s just one of the poorly-documented pitfalls of being a frontman – an abundance of good looking available women, but a sore lack of enthusiasm. Then again, in fairness to Healy, he did himself state, “I know I am pretentious, but I’d be the first person to tell you that.”
Maybe this track hits differently when you grew up in a vaguely similar cultural background to Healy’s and the band, but I’d say if I had to pick a song that epitomises a specific screenshot in time, ‘Menswear’ would be high on the list. With its roguish charm and woozy visual imagery, listening to this track is reminiscent of reading a stream of consciousness excerpt from a novel – for all I know, if Henry Miller had been a drunken British millennial musician, he might have written something very vaguely similar (though, for God sake, don’t tell Healy that). Moreover, it scratches the itch of that one blind drunk night most people have hidden in their memories; sitting around in a crusty church or ballroom somewhere, half-pasted and wobbling your way to the back entrance for a cigarette, irrespective of if you ‘actually’ smoke, trying not to hurl chunks all over your mate’s security-deposited carpet. And if that’s not a relatable anecdote, I don’t know what is…
3. SO FAR (IT’S ALRIGHT)
Speaking of cultural substance abuse, when’s the last time you were “sitting at Pete’s house playing video games, doing sniff that you can’t afford”? At some point, the zonked method of writing a song by The 1975 becomes clear – nick a few chord progressions from LCD Soundsystem, chuck in a heroin, cocaine or high-tops reference to appease the indie rock gods, and whack a ‘pastiche’ label on it so no one can accuse you of being a rip-off. If the band were set on making a bit of pandemic cash, I’d be signing drinking game patents; take two shots everytime Healy realises he resents his self-obsessed girlfriend, take one for every reference to zoots, nihilism and pissing respectively, and take three anytime he uses more than two ‘five dollar words’ in a row. For a bonus round, down your drink every time he mentions a guy named ‘Mike’ as one of his inspirations (Skinner, Jackson, Hutchence – the list goes on). Unfortunately, you’ll be dead.
However, ‘So Far (It’s Alright)’ is another UK-fuelled nostalgia fest, seemingly depicting Healy’s Mancunian youth and wild child years; as some kind of early rockstar premonition, he allegedly got booted out of school for hitting a kid between the eyes with a protractor. Don’t ask me how, why, or when, because I’m too busy repressing a bunch of awful puns. In terms of lyrics, my favourite is probably, “You just write about sex and killing yourself and how you hardly ever went to school,” partially because it lets me convince myself this once amorphous ‘Cool Girl’ finally gives Healy a bit of a smack around the chops and tells him he’s a cliché; though inevitably, this would just resort in him crying in someone’s car and and posting a bunch of cryptic tweets containing words like ‘didacticism’ or ‘homoletics’ for his aforementioned rabid, sapiosexual fanbase. I’d say ‘So Far (It’s Alright)’ for the most part stands the test of time, despite containing many of the stereotypical cliches you’d identify with the The 1975’s public persona; maybe I just like it because it acts as some kind of sonic extension to ‘Menswear.’
Conclusively, I could write some long and discerning paragraph on the effects of adolescence as a barometer of skill and style, but the truth is this — as much as I can acknowledge the pitfalls of the 1975, with their inflated egos and sometimes overtly harmful romanticization, they’re still the kind of band you need at fifteen. Maybe The Village Voice is right to describe them as “punch your TV obnoxious,” in part due to Healy’s consistent God complex and self-appointed description of the 1975 as “the greatest rock band in the world” despite them not being a rock band, but they’re a teenage pop stepping-stone into new worlds of musical experience. Huey Lewis, LCD Soundsystem, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, The Blue Nile; it’s all there, in part or in whole, and it’s ripe for the taking. After all, I started listening to Joan Jett & The Blackhearts aged seven after a particularly enthusiastic viewing of the movie Shrek, so I’m hardly a musical purist. It doesn’t matter where it all begins, it just matters that it does.