The most fitting word that represents The 1975’s new album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, is one that the band explicitly uses in a song title: sincerity. Put simply, the record is sincerity in the form of a vast assortment of sounds that fit together peculiarly well. A Brief Inquiry distinctly shows The 1975’s maturation: It is the band’s first major release after frontman Matty Healy’s stint in rehab for heroin addiction.
In “Sincerity Is Scary,” The 1975 delivers a piece of social commentary that describes the very aspect that makes A Brief Inquiry a notable record. Healy, who serenades with smooth vocals that juxtapose his emotionally loaded lyrics, denounces his and the modern world’s obsession with cynicism and their ridicule of sincerity. He quashes this self-criticism by writing candidly about various issues throughout the album.
Perhaps the most socially relevant track on the record, “Love It If We Made It” references multiple real-life incidents in recent history. Most notably, Healy directly quotes Trump’s infamous “I moved on her like a bitch!” while lamenting “modernism” and the state of the world. Although these types of references are rare in pop music and should be commended, The 1975 do little more than point out that they happened.
But maybe it feels like they aren’t saying enough because this alarming rhetoric has become normalized in the past two years. Maybe Healy decided to sing about these incidents in a different context to remind us that they shouldn’t be accepted as is — that they should still cause outcry. The track does feel both objective and assertive at the same time, offering sincere rather than “fake” news in the form of exact quotes from the sitting president of the United States, as well as a sincere rebuttal of modern society.
Later on in the album, Healy dedicates the seemingly heartwarming “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” to his struggle with addiction. Without paying proper attention to its lyrics, the track could easily be mistaken for an affectionate love song. Upon closer inspection, however, you come to the realization that Healy is crooning about heroin, and this causes the title of the track alone to become haunting.
The song’s sentiment transforms entirely into a hopeless despair that is only refuted by the reality of Healy’s successful rehab. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” is his attempt at honestly discussing addiction after finally grappling with it, and its dark content is disguised with a cheery beat — perhaps because he still wanted to cover up how he felt. Perhaps he was still reluctant to talk about it, but he does anyway, and that becomes one of the greatest strengths of the album.
Other tracks on A Brief Inquiry uphold the album’s dedication to sincerity with similar tenacity. “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” which directly succeeds Healy’s depiction of heroin addiction, is an ode to a girl named Angela who was the only other patient in rehab with Healy. Although the track’s lyrics are sparse, Healy concisely expresses the empathy he felt for Angela: “She wears [depression] like a dress / A post-traumatic mess / And don’t sleep / It hurts to be awake.”
Healy wrote the penultimate track “I Couldn’t Be More In Love” not about a partner but about The 1975’s fanbase. He revealed to Pitchfork that the vocals were recorded the day before he entered rehab, and he kept them in the final cut because they sounded “guttural.” He was “really upset and scared” at that point, and “I Couldn’t Be More In Love” reflects his genuine apprehension about The 1975 losing its fans after his visit to rehab.
Sonically, the tracks on A Brief Inquiry zigzag frantically from the uplifting pop of “Give Yourself A Try” to the acoustic vulnerability of “Be My Mistake” to the hard-hitting SoundCloud-rap-inspired “I Like America & America Likes Me,” before settling down for the slow stretch that concludes the album. Interestingly enough, none of the experimentation sounds out of place.
The album feels sluggish as it comes to a close, and it thrives on the unpredictability of the earlier songs. This impression of the album is ironic, considering Healy’s criticism of the modern world’s volatility in “Love It If We Made It.”
One of the standouts of the album is “How to Draw / Petrichor,” which includes a reprise of the bonus track “How to Draw” from the band’s sophomore album. The first half of “How to Draw / Petrichor” encourages introspection with an ambient instrumental backing. “How to Draw” is the emptiest part of the album, and there is no better way to describe it than as simply beautiful. The track evolves into a glitchy breakbeat in “Petrichor” that is perhaps the most spurring instrumentation on the record.
A Brief Inquiry concludes with a commentary on death that swells into a cinematic chorus of Healy passionately professing, “I always wanna die / I always wanna die, sometimes.” Through this admission, we finally feel Healy’s emotional fervor in its most dismantled, honest state. He pleads us, “If you can’t survive; just try.” And it’s precisely this type of sensitive authenticity that helps The 1975 and their album flourish.