- The 1975 released their fourth studio album, “Notes on a Conditional Form,” on Friday.
- We listened straight through the 22-song tracklist and wrote down our first impressions of each one.
- Overall, we thought that while the tracklist ran a touch too long, there was an abundance of bright spots intertwined throughout and no outright skips.
- The best tracks on the album are “The Birthday Party,” “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy),” and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” while we were disappointed by some of the interludes.
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The 1975 released their fourth studio album, “Notes on a Conditional Form,” on Friday.
After multiple delays, the album finally arrived a full two years after it was initially announced. “Notes” is intended to play as a companion to 2018’s Grammy-nominated “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships.” Together, the two albums form the British band’s “Music for Cars” era.
Overall, we thought the exhaustive, 22-song tracklist could have been tighter, but there weren’t any songs that gave us the impulse to actively press “skip.”
There were, however, numerous highlights and bright spots woven throughout the album.
The best tracks on the album are “The Birthday Party,” “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy),” and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” while we were disappointed by some of the interludes.
Here is what we thought of each song on “Notes on a Conditional Form” upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album’s final score.)
Every album by The 1975 begins with an intro song named after the band. This time, Greta Thunberg takes the wheel.
Ahlgrim: Frontman Matty Healy was spot-on when he called Greta Thunberg “the most punk person I’ve ever met.” I’m so glad the band enlisted her to open this album, and I’m obsessed with her sobering speech. It was genius to give her the sole platform on the very first track; I hope everyone hears it.
This intro song was released back in July, and every time I listen to it, I wonder why everyone isn’t talking about climate change constantly – and I wonder how long it will be until every new album or piece of art is tackling the crisis in some way, literally out of necessity if nothing else.
Larocca: Every album by The 1975 opens with a track called “The 1975,” but until “Notes on a Conditional Form,” every single one used the same set of lyrics, beginning “Go down / Soft sound.” This one breaks the mould with a powerful, spoken-word performance by the 17-year-old environmental activist, set to ambient music.
It’s impactful and sets “Notes” immediately apart from its three predecessors.
“People” is loud and melodramatic, but works within the context of the album.
Ahlgrim: I really wish the band hadn’t released “People” as a single, because I like it so much better in the context of the album. When Healy screams “wake up, wake up, wake up!” and the song surges through your body right after Thunberg’s speech, the effect is exquisite. If this were my first time listening to it, the effect would have been even stronger, like, “OK these guys really aren’t f—ing around with this one.”
Larocca: “People” is a hardcore headbanger that analyses climate change and capitalism from the viewpoint of anxious millennials. Healy calls for people his age to “stop just watching s— in bed” and “get this in our f—ing heads” that “the economy’s a goner, republic’s a banana.”
While this song was released in August 2019, the line “I don’t like going outside, so bring me everything here” is even more poignant now that the world has gotten exponentially worse thanks to a global pandemic.
“The End (Music For Cars)” is a shocking tonal switch from “People.”
Ahlgrim: This is a fairly pleasant instrumental track. But it’s a bit too long for being a swirly, chilled-out interlude, in my opinion, and it’s quite a jarring tonal switch after the intensity of “People.”
I’m not sure we needed an interlude this early on, because I’m afraid it might slow down the momentum – but it could also be the band’s way of easing into a less harsh, more relaxed sonic landscape. All in all, I’m neither thrilled or mad about it.
Larocca: It’s background music – albeit pretty background music, but still background music.
Although I’ll admit it is jarring going from a song as aggressive as “People” to the score of a romantic drama’s end credits.
“Frail State of Mind” fits well within the broader scope of the album.
Ahlgrim: I’ve heard “Frail State of Mind” a few times since its release in October, and I’ve never quite formulated a solid opinion on it. Sonically, it doesn’t make a huge impact on me. However, I do like the concept of facing the realistic impact of climate change, having a full-on punk-rock freak-out, and then being like, “Sorry, I’m just feeling super fragile.” I relate to that.
Larocca: This one is a Classic The 1975 Song. From Healy’s hazy backing vocals throughout to the elastic synths and prickly drum beat, there are a lot of textural elements here that you’d surely expect from the band – but these flourishes expertly come together to sonically evoke the generalized anxiety that Healy previously said the song was about.
“Streaming” is a better interlude than “The End (Music for Cars).”
Ahlgrim: Here’s another instrumental interlude. It’s a bit strange to go full-throttle with the one-two punch of Greta Thunberg and “People,” just to slow way the hell down with “The End,” “Frail State of Mind,” and “Streaming.”
I know I’ve sounded rather wishy-washy in this review so far, but I really am not feeling strongly for or against this album at this point. It has neither sold me on its merits, nor alienated me at this point, but it has given me a bit of whiplash.
At least “Streaming” is shorter than “The End,” and it flows quite nicely into the next track.
Larocca: It’s an instrumental track that’s soft and focused, ending with the starting note of the following track. There’s truly nothing more I can say.
“The Birthday Party” is both breezy and observant.
Ahlgrim:Now I’m starting to vibe. I loved “The Birthday Party” when it was released in February, and it grows on me a little more every time I listen to it.
It lulls you into a kind of airy, chilled-out trance, but the lyrics are sharp and perceptive: “I was wasted and cold, minding my business / And I seen the girls, and they were all like / ‘Do you wanna come and get f—ed up?'” is such a simple, yet brutally honest summary of all the best and most mindlessly embarrassing moments of my 20s so far.
Once again, Healy takes no prisoners when he casts a thoughtful eye on the states of youth, escapism, and all our shared complicity.
Larocca: I let out a very satisfied sigh when the percussion came in and the guitars started strumming. I don’t even need Healy to start singing to thoroughly enjoy this one, but I’m glad he does because I’m obsessed with how he sounds like a 29-year-old John Mayer draped in rich silk.
I know there’s still 16 songs left on the tracklist, but this is already my favourite one on the album.
Healy doesn’t have a ton to say on “Yeah I Know,” but he’s still vibing.
Ahlgrim: This is the first interlude-type track that has really added to and advanced the momentum of the album. It has a really nice beat and I found myself bobbing up and down on my toes as I listened to it. I don’t mind a song that’s light on lyrics and heavy on vibes as long as it doesn’t feel like filler music, and this doesn’t.
Larocca: I don’t even need to finish the song to know this one’s forgettable. There’s no real lyrical substance here, but there’s some nice production work. (But, then again, when is there not?)
“Then Because She Goes” has an unconventional song structure, but it’s not unwelcome.
Ahlgrim: I like how this song doesn’t have a conventional structure and just dives right into the action. And I love how I could immediately imagine myself swaying back and forth in a Webster Hall-type venue, surrounded by people grinning and singing the words. It has a nostalgic quality to it that really works.
Larocca: “Then Because She Goes” sounds as if it’s starting in the middle of the song and the track as a whole feels purposefully unfinished. I don’t mind it, though.
“Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” is a delicate meditation on mortality that benefits greatly from Phoebe Bridgers’ presence.
Ahlgrim: This is pure Matty Healy: hovering someone between fantasy and reality, sincerity and irony, reveling in contradiction.
Hearing an extremely vocal atheist open a song with “I’m in love with Jesus Christ / He’s so nice” immediately puts me on a bit of an edge, keeping an ear open for winking cheekiness and sarcasm. But the song doesn’t actually give me that overall vibe.
The gentle sonic landscape reminds me of his more tender and personal songs, like “Nana” and “Be My Mistake.” It’s almost like he wishes he could have faith, or feel inclined to believe in a larger plan for humanity.
Phoebe Bridgers lends an additional sense of gravity and authenticity. She’s extremely worthy of the first-ever lyrical feature on a 1975 album; the two musicians’ voices blend together seamlessly.
Larocca: I didn’t expect there to be a soft, country-tinged ballad about loving Jesus on this album, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Healy effortlessly pulled it off.
He’s a chameleonic artist, and that’s never been more apparent than on “Notes.” I can’t think of another modern musician who can start an album full-scream and snake their way through synth-infused tracks and warm interludes to land at this honeyed duet.
Healy’s voice intertwines beautifully with that of Bridgers as they both contemplate existentialism and their individual crushes – his on “a boy I know” and hers on “the girl next door.”
“Roadkill” is an unexpected but successful detour through the sounds of Nashville.
Ahlgrim: I’m pleasantly surprised by the country twang on this one. It doesn’t feel too sudden or forced; it actually flows really well after “Jesus Christ,” which eased towards that kind of folksy vibe, but didn’t go all-in.
I knew “Notes” was going to be eclectic and genre-averse, but I really didn’t expect this sort of strong Nashville influence. And I don’t hate it! Healy has demonstrated an interest in and knack for incorporating pretty much every other genre into his music, so why not?
Larocca: Oh, so we’re going full country now. Is this album sonically cohesive? No. Do I care? Not really! If there are 22 songs on a tracklist, you need to stretch yourself to keep listeners engaged, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised listening to a 1975 album as I was when the country-inspired guitar riffs kicked off on “Roadkill.”
But after the initial shock, “Roadkill” proves itself to be airy and bright; it also blends nicely with “Jesus Christ” before it. I’m so glad Healy didn’t try on a fake Tennessee accent for this, though.
“Me & You Together Song” is actually music for cars.
Ahlgrim: I enjoyed “Me & You Together Song” well enough when it was released as a single, but I am truly enamoured by it within this four-song stretch that makes me feel like I’m driving in a convertible with the top down at sunset – a little wistful, but jaunty and tangerine-orange and lilac.
“Jesus Christ” blends so well into “Roadkill,” which blends so well into the bright guitars and sweet sentimentality of this song.
Larocca: “Me & You Together Song” is The 1975 at their poppiest and most playful. Healy yearns for that white picket fence life with the woman he’s “been in love with […] for ages,” while backed by chords plucked right out of 2004. As someone who loves nostalgia and lively love songs, this one really works for me.
“I Think There’s Something You Should Know” has nice moments, but it’s also where we started feeling how long the album is.
Ahlgrim: I was vibing to this song just fine for the first minute or so, and then that muted breakdown swooped in and really took it to the next level. I made that sort of face – the scrunched-up nose, the O-shaped mouth – that everyone used to make when an electro-pop song pulled off a really powerful drop.
That being said, it would have made a more powerful impact if the song didn’t continue meandering for another, like, three whole minutes.
Larocca: I don’t dislike this song, but I wouldn’t miss it if it were dropped off the tracklist. After going on a complete sonic journey, landing at this filler track just makes me painfully and acutely aware that I’m only halfway through the album.
“Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied” has some sly callbacks, but it also pushes The 1975’s catalogue forward.
Ahlgrim: I really like the stylistic risks the band took on this song. The grimy, pseudo-rap section feels very Stormzy-inspired. I can’t actually tell if it’s a featured vocalist or if it’s a deeper manipulation of Healy’s voice, but I think it works.
A chorus that sounds like a choir usually makes me want to weep, not dance – cough, “If I Believe You” – but this one had me bopping around like a little forest nymph. Is that weird? I can’t tell because this album has me feeling rather sprightly and sparkly.
Larocca: It’s been seven years since Healy opened the track “Sex” with the line, “And this is how it starts / You take your shoes off in the back of my van,” and now here we are finding out how it ended.
I’m not mad about the wait though, because I love this blunt admission: “I never f—ed in a car I was lying / I do it on my bed lying down not trying.”
There’s literally nothing bad about “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy).”
Ahlgrim: The first time I listened to this song, I filmed myself just straight-up grooving in my bedroom (with a heart-halo filter on, of course) and I sent it to Courteney, simply because words escaped me. I wish I could just copy and paste that video here as my review. I love this song. I love it. I have nothing less than glowing words to say about it.
Larocca: The line “How can I be yours if you’re not mine?” is so obvious that I can’t believe it hasn’t been abundantly overused across every top 40 track – and yet, its simplicity and tenderness makes it an absolutely perfect line.
That can be said of the entire track as a whole: it’s clean, gentle, and utterly flawless.
“Shiny Collarbone” is the most interesting interlude on the album.
Ahlgrim: “Shiny Collarbone” is such an awesome name for a song. It sounds like a Tumblr URL from 2008, where you’d find photos of colour-enhanced bruises and screenshots of Effy from “Skins.”
However, despite “2008 bruise-worshipping Tumblr” being a pretty accurate vibe for a lot of The 1975’s music (and I mean that nostalgically, endearingly), this doesn’t sound like any 1975 song I’ve ever heard.
I really appreciate the deviation here; it gives the back-half of this album an intriguing edge and elevates this song from “another largely instrumental interlude” to a grungy, sonic deviation that kept me properly enthralled.
Larocca: This might be the most danceable of the band’s growing list of interludes. I’m taking this to mean that I need to prepare for yet another sonic shift as we dig deeper into the back-half of the album.
“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” will delight critics and casual listeners alike.
Ahlgrim: Of the eight songs that were previously released from this album, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” was easily my favourite. It’s like “Girls” combined with “The Sound” combined with the jazzy instrumentals of “Sincerity is Scary,” which are three of my favourite 1975 songs ever.
This single was also the far-and-away favourite of my best friend Daphne, another longtime 1975 fan who leans a bit more traditional when it comes to her music taste, so I know this song is a crowd-pleaser.
Larocca: I yelped when the drums began a minute in. Who knew an ode to cybersex would sound this good?
While I expected something danceable, it’s also much cheekier than what I thought “Shiny Collarbone” was setting us up for. But overall it’s a quintessential 1975 bop and I’ll never turn my nose up at one of those.
To me, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is like the raunchy older sister of “The Sound.”
“Playing On My Mind” is a stripped-back moment that feels familiar.
Ahlgrim: Sometimes, all this band needs to do is step back, hand Healy his acoustic guitar, and let him get a bit mopey. That’s a fairly safe formula. However, given that I have nothing additional to say about this song, it’s not necessarily a winner.
Larocca: This is just a more introspective version of “She Lays Down.”
There’s no reason “Having No Head” should be six minutes long.
Ahlgrim: I presume this song title is an extension of Healy’s documented obsession with the word “head” (“Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” “Lostmyhead,” “Head.Calls.Bending.”), though I’m not sure Healy knows that he doesn’t have to reference it (either the action or the body part) on every album he makes.
The heavy, distorted synths during the first half of this song reminded me a lot of the sinister soundtrack in “The Social Network.” It gets a bit more clubby in its second half, sounding more like something the “Euphoria” teenagers would dance to while getting high.
I definitely don’t think this interlude needed to be quite so long. To be fair, it kept me intrigued – that’s to say, I didn’t feel any need to skip through it – but the lyric-less instrumentals are getting tiresome.
Larocca: I know Healy is an artiste but oh my God, no one wants to listen to this many interludes on a single album! Just save them all and put out a fully instrumental album if you love them so much, dude!
At least there are a couple of major key changes to keep things somewhat interesting. They didn’t stop me from saying “I’m so tired of this” out loud to myself once the track surpassed the five-minute mark, though.
“What Should I Say” is, put simply, gorgeous.
Ahlgrim: The electronic melody threaded through this song sounds a bit like a gentler, more elastic take on Kanye West’s “Fade.” (I’m not sure how Healy would take that comparison, given how he chastised West’s alliance with Trump in the ever-relevant “Love It If We Made It.” Legend.)
I too am hesitant to praise West these days, but melodically, “Fade” is one of the strongest songs he’s ever created, so I mean that comparison as a compliment. “What Should I Say” does a really graceful job of blending its thick, heady beat and brighter overall tone, topped with glittery flourishes.
Larocca: Healy sounds warped, deep and distorted on “What Should I Say” which contrasts nicely with the airy, buoyant female backing vocals that lift the song up. They’re both set to elastic, shimmery synths, which all together make for a divine combination.
“Bagsy Not In Net” is the definition of a filler track.
Ahlgrim: I don’t have much of an opinion on this song. Its use of strings is quite pleasant, but I just don’t think this album needed another experimental interlude – especially when it’s getting so close to the end. Finish strong, boys!
Larocca: If you’re throwing in an interlude at track 20, that is a clear sign that you need to tighten your tracklist. I just want this album to end already.
“Don’t Worry” is very sweet, but at track 21, it’s hard to maintain focus throughout.
Ahlgrim: Again, I’m not sure we needed another three minutes of sluggish sweetness. “Don’t worry” has a very cute central theme, but at this point, I don’t have much patience for it. I’m zoning out a bit while listening to it.
Larocca: “Don’t Worry” is more of a poem set to ambient music more than anything else, which works well as a penultimate track. It’s a sentimental, quiet moment of reassurance before heading into the grand finale.
“Guys” is Healy’s sentimental declaration of love for his bandmates.
Ahlgrim: I didn’t listen to this song when it was released earlier this month, because I knew it was slotted at the very end of the tracklist, and I prefer to keep the closing track a pure listening experience during my first foray into an album.
That being said: what a cute way to close an album! Crooning about your bandmates and how much you love them? I’ll eat that up, thank you very much. I want 100 more songs like this from every boy band that’s ever existed. I’m delighted.
Larocca: Not to bring Taylor Swift into everything I write, but she did the whole thanking your band on the closing track thing first and better with 2010’s “Long Live.” This take is cute and all, but after 21 songs I’m slightly miffed the album didn’t finish with something more original.
Final Grade: 8.4/10
Ahlgrim: To me, this is a no-skips album. I didn’t not enjoy one single second of it.
But that definitely doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It’s a bit too long and winding; I guess when you’re arguably the biggest band in the world, no one wants to tell you that you’ve gone a bit overboard and should consider tightening things up a bit.
“Notes” is missing that strong replay value that the band has nailed on previous tracklists – in particular, 2016’s “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It,” which I consider to be The 1975’s peak genius.
I can’t see myself constantly revisiting “Notes” in the same way, let alone feeling awash with pure musical ethereality every time I listen to it. I will, however, be happily bopping to “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy),” “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” and “Guys” until I’m dead.
Larocca: I spent way more time with this album than I would have liked – and I’m the kind of person who has one of the band’s albums (“I Like It When You Sleep”) on vinyl. Because of how many interludes there were, the tracklist dragged on and there were too many breaks between the actual songs.
This album just didn’t need to be 22 songs long – and I’m sorry, but an interlude that exceeds anything more than two minutes on a 22-song tracklist is egregious. This album has a runtime longer than 80 minutes!
But I guess based on our own metric for measuring an album’s quality, background music isn’t nearly as bad as an outright skip.
If I narrow it down to just the songs that weren’t mostly (if not fully) instrumental, there’s really nothing here I dislike, though. There were tracks that fit squarely within The 1975’s existing catalogue, and plenty of moments that were fresh, innovative, and brought the band into previously uncharted sonic territory.
The three-song run of “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” “Roadkill” and “Me You Together Song” was thrilling and delightful; I can see myself revisiting this section again and again, especially during the summer months. “The Birthday Party” might also be one of my favourite songs the band has ever produced.
Overall, no, it’s not a perfect album – it isn’t even The 1975’s best body of work – but it did manage to showcase every one of the band’s many strengths, and then some.
Worth listening to:
“Frail State of Mind”
“The Birthday Party”
“Then Because She Goes”
“Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”
“Me & You Together Song”
“Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied”
“Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)”
“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
“What Should I Say”
“The End (Music for Cars)”
“Yeah I Know”
“I Think There’s Something You Should Know”
“Playing On My Mind”
“Having No Head”
“Bagsy Not In Net”
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for “Worth listening to,” .5 for “Background music,” 0 for “Press skip”).
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