The title of this article is only meant to convey the fact that I am not a licensed music journalist. I am totally ‘with’ the band, as the kids say. They rock.
Last March I had the chance to see The 1975 at Mercury Lounge in downtown Manhattan. It’s a small venue with space for a couple hundred people, suitable for a band that (at the time) had released three moderately successful EPs and had one infectious but little-known single in the US, “Chocolate”. The band joined the crowd and watched the opening acts from the back of the bar where nobody bothered them (or perhaps recognized them), and then came on stage and put on a strong 45-minute show. Lead-singer/songwriter/heartthrob Matthew Healy didn’t say much between songs, but when he did speak he appeared genuinely humble and happy to be on stage. They would go on to release a fourth EP in May (appropriately titled IV) and finally put out a full-length LP in September.
It is now December, their self-titled album has hit #1 on the British album charts and is gaining momentum stateside (peaking at #38). And I believe theirs is the best debut album of the year.
Though The 1975 received generally-positive reviews overall (per Metacritic), a number of influential critics bemoaned the record’s simple lyrics, pop styling and (ironically) 1980s sound. Pitchfork called the songwriting “stiff, cloistered and unimaginative,” and Rolling Stone went even further, declaring in a two-sentence review that the band “forces unconvincing emo lyrics into a bloopy 1980s package.” Ouch.
Fortunately, these reviews miss the mark entirely. The beauty of the band and this album is in the carefree pop sensibility and FUN they seem to have. As Matthew Healy himself says, they “write songs that would be the soundtrack of a modern John Hughes film.” It may be cheesy at times, but it never stops bringing on those warm and fuzzy feelings –just like every viewing of Breakfast Club.
“Chocolate” is the band’s biggest hit, peaking at #19 on the UK pop charts and #30 on the somewhat nebulous US Alternative Rock chart. It is indeed one of the best tracks on an album full of should-be singles. ‘Sex’ gained some airplay across the pond, and features a Killers-esque guitar riff and stadium-ready refrain. ‘Heart Out’ opens with a synthy melody that would be equally at home on an album by The Human League, and suits the winking, catchy lyrics. One of the most emo songs on the album is ‘Settle Down,’ and it should come as no surprise that ‘Settle Down’ is the song I have played the most. However, the truly telling thing about the quality of this album is that there are no ‘must-skip’ tracks to be found. I can’t say the same about almost any other album this year.
The (made up) distinction of ‘Best Debut Album of the Year’ is a dubious one, especially during a year that featured so many great new bands. Indie/internet darlings like Haim, Charlie XCX, CHVRCHES, 17-year old pop phenom Lorde, rappers like A$AP Rocky and Pusha T, and rockers Imagine Dragons all released exceptional albums in 2013. Any of these artists could be worthy of ‘Best Debut’, but I keep coming back to how much fun The 1975 really is, and repeatable as well.
I may still be biased because of their live show. The 1975 played almost the entire LP before it was released, and I felt like I’d heard every song even when they were brand new to me. The music made me nostalgic, not bored; they were completely committed to the performance and it made the audience commit too. Watching a band like Haim (for example) performing, they have great energy, but also seem to go through the motions at times and act self-conscious in a way that took me out of the moment, and affected my feelings toward their music as a whole. (Though watching Haim’s excellent SNL performance last week might make me reconsider their whole deal, but that will have to be for another post).
By May of next year The 1975 will be back in New York City to headline a show at Terminal 5, a 3,000 person venue. Their deserved ascent to mainstream recognition and success should remain on track until then, and hopefully they can follow-up their stellar debut with an equally solid sophomore offering. There is still the rest of December, and maybe a new band will come up and steal the crown, but for now you can’t do much better than listening to the self-titled debut of The 1975 for the rest of 2013.