In case the “indie” wing of MOR alt-rock hasn’t gotten the memo, the 80s were 30 years ago; everyone knows that the nostalgia train arrives every 20 years, which means the 90s are in right now. Still, this hasn’t stopped the recurrent waves of white boys from continuing to pick up synthesizers and copping Prince’s game, and Chvrches proves it continues to be critically viable, while The 1975 prove on their debut self-titled album that it can also still be a huge commercial success, with their ubiquitous single “Chocolate” all over modern rock radio and making waves in pop music circles as well, not to mention their revamped single “Sex,” which appeared more than a year prior to introduce a skillful, if somewhat underdeveloped, band who took influence from the same point in U2’s career as Kings of Leon did in 2008, only this time it wasn’t utterly annoying. Keeping their string of EPs in mind, ‘The 1975’ is a huge leap from where this band was at the start, as they seem to be masters of keeping themes in check, and know exactly how to cobble their obvious influences together in a way that doesn’t lend immediately to cynical reproach. While it may not be the wave of the future, its invocation of the sounds of yesterday makes for a competent, compelling soundtrack for today.
Opener “The 1975” (like I said, they really know how to keep a theme together) sets the tone, while “The City” leads us into a drum loop like no other and some pulsing synths that provide for perhaps the heaviest, most incessant moments on the album. At first glance, the album can seem a bit front-loaded, with the best singles leading the album, but by the end of “M.O.N.E.Y.” it is clear that the band’s hits are no flukes, slowing down the tempo without sacrificing the momentum of the deft songcrafting promised by “The City.” The 16-track album seems to have few real filler moments, with songs like “Robber” and “Heart Out” offering something unique and interesting on their own. This is part of the band’s real success in comparison to some of their peers. In contrast to Grouplove or Two Door Cinema Club, they don’t sound ironically bored, they emanate excitement in what they do, willing each moment to have something fresh and new to offer, and unlike other groups fascinated with the 80s, they don’t beat you over the head with their influences – they are keenly aware of what decade they’re in, able to comfortably fit on a playlist alongside Michael Jackson or One Direction.
“Settle Down” sees them at their most similar to contemporary groups like Passion Pit or Phoenix, but the voice of frontman Matthew Healy sets them well apart as a unit, rarely allowing one to mistake them for an experimental electro band rather than the ambitious pop group that they so clearly are. I wouldn’t say similarities between The 1975 and those groups are entirely coincidental, but the ends for which these means are coerced are in an entirely different place altogether. Indeed, on a song like “Robbers,” where, if it were done by anyone else, would sound flat, generic, and generally uninspired, likely because the kind of bands that use these techniques do so ironically and unvigorously, treating the palate of a prior decade not as something to be inspired by, but simply another sample for the shuffle generation, bled of any personality. Here, though, it sounds like over-the-top stadium-rock faire of near the best of quality. By the time ends with the weary “Is There Somebody Who Can Catch You,” it’s clear that these boys are destined for big things – if not for outright mainstream triumph the likes of which would make Neon Trees seethe with envy, then at least for dominance of retro-electronic indie music as a whole.
As we find ourselves firmly in the midst of the second decade of the 2nd millennium, unsure of the direction pop music will take given the resurgence of both boy bands and an angsty, petulant hardcore underground, one thing is certain: irony is out, and few in the indie world understand that better than The 1975. Tastemakers are no longer afraid to display their ambition, quite openly as the case may be, and it’s refreshing to see a band refrain from taking themselves too seriously while at the same time not losing site of their vision.
Recommended Tracks: The City, Chocolate, Sex, Settle Down