A Brief Inquiry into “A Brief Inquiry”
By Melanie Juarez
To the casual listener untrained to Matt Healy’s Manchester slur, “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” the third single off the The 1975’s latest album, sounds like a perfect (if somewhat strange) love song. It is only logical, as it features sappy lyrics (like the chorus’ “All I do is sit and think about you”) and classic pop instrumentals. However, the song is actually based on Healy’s search for self fulfillment, which led him to a drug addiction and subsequent admission to rehab in early 2018. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” is just one of several songs off the album with a catchy, colorful major-key exterior that is coupled with deeply heartbroken lyrics.
It is only natural that The 1975’s highly anticipated third album “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships,” is rooted in this sort of contradiction. The group itself has become one of the most discussed bands of the decade since its debut in 2013, and it is an intrinsically contradictory entity. It makes pop music that rejects popular culture by embracing it, while simultaneously embracing pop culture by rejecting it. Its music is pretentious and commercial, but also emotional and brilliant, something its creators are fully aware of. These complexities are on full display on “A Brief Inquiry.”
The group released “A Brief Inquiry” on Nov. 30, after nearly two years of continuous touring. All 15 tracks were written and produced by frontman Healy and guitarist George Daniel. The ambitious project tackles a wide range of musical genres and emotional themes. The album was inspired by Healy’s questions about the nature of relationships in modern society -- relationships with each other, the world, and our own consciences. In writing about the present, inevitably one must write about the internet, which is certainly a major theme of the album. But at its core, the album explores sincerity in a refreshing and magnetic way. “A Brief Inquiry” is genuinely the only thing I have listened to for the last week; every time I put on my headphones, my fingers tap on the album’s minimalist cover all on their own. It is brilliant.
The five brightest and busiest songs preceded the album’s release as singles. My favorite of these is the first, titled “Give Yourself A Try.” It is the messiest song on the album, a grungy rock-based track in which Healy talks to his younger self. It is fast-paced, raw, and delightfully crude. But the third single, “Love It If We Made It,” will likely be this album’s most remembered song. Healy wrote the lyrics by piecing together news headlines from the past year, and the result is an exasperated laundry list of all the terrible stories we have grown accustomed to. What I love about this song is that it is perfect to scream along to, but it is ultimately hopeful. As Healy has said in interviews, it is “not an apocalyptic view” of society; “Love It If We Made It” begs for us to survive all the terrible news.
Of course, the album’s pop singles like “Love It If We Made It” and radio-ready “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” are the most catchy and attractively controversial parts of “A Brief Inquiry,” but the slower songs are still crafted beautifully and are worthy of as much attention. My favorite of these is “Inside Your Mind,” a dramatic ballad about love so obsessive it turns violent. It reminds me of why I like The 1975: it is stripped-down, delicate, and weird -- Healy and Daniel can not write a normal love song for the life of them.
“A Brief Inquiry” is incredibly packed with inventive sounds. Healy and Daniel parted with the idea of genres and created songs that mash together jazz, gospel, punk, pop, electronica, and spoken word. This album is so painstakingly made you could spend hours listening to it and find a new detail every time. “A Brief Inquiry” is a musical treasure trove, and Healy’s painfully personal lyrics complete the album with profound thought and beauty. Healy asks so many questions: “Am I me through geography?” “What about these feelings I’ve got?” “What if you die with all the cameras?” “Would you please listen?” “Am I a liar?” -- truly, an inquiry.
But Healy has no answers to offer; in an interview with Genius, he simply said “I’m an artist, that’s not my job.” These are genuine, almost unanswerable questions about his life and our existences. At times, it sounds like Healy is desperately talking to both himself and to us, and that is why “A Brief Inquiry” is one of the most poignant, beautiful albums released this year. Full of honesty and artistry, “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” is, in the words of Lady Gaga, “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique.” And above all, it is beautiful: heart-wrenchingly so.