The 1975: Being Funny In A Foreign Language [Album Review]

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The 1975
Being Funny In A Foreign Language
Dirty Hit/Polydor/Interscope Records [2022]

One of the challenges in describing the music and albums of The 1975 in the past is that there was always a lot to take in. And it wasn’t just that singer and primary songwriter Matthew Healy wrote about anything and everything that crossed his mind – including his personal romance and relationships, addictions, and mental turmoil, and made a point of addressing the current issues of the day from climate change to racism to human agency in a world dominated by technology, and the political pressures of the moment – but the band was all over the map musically, spread over 15 to 20 tracks on albums that often ran ten to twenty minutes over an hour. The British quartet started playing together in high school and have obviously absorbed a wide variety of musical influences, from organic garage rock to techno/electronic pop, with asides into punk, acoustic folk and country, funk, and R&B, often moving from genre to genre over the course of a single project with the standout characteristic being a penchant for great pop hooks. It was always, as I said, a lot.

Here on the band’s fifth full-length release, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, The 1975 and their first-time producer Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, St. Vincent) have eschewed the more experimental aspects of their previous recordings and focused their sound around playing real instruments together, leaning more toward strings for augmentation rather than synthesizers. In the perfunctory opening song titled “The 1975,” like previous albums, Healy seems to be offering a bit of an apology for his earlier, youthful rants, rhyming “cynical” with “Adderall” and “vitriol,” before acknowledging that “I’m sorry about my twenties, I was learning the ropes/I had a tendency of thinking ‘bout it after I spoke… You’re making an aesthetic out of not doing well/And mining all the bits of you you think you can sell.”

The album’s first single, “Part of the Band,” basically a folk-rock song driven by a creative orchestrated string arrangement, has a playful lyric about numerous failed relationships, with Healy delivering a self-deprecating self-examination, wondering “Am I ironically woke? The butt of my joke? Or am I just some post-coke, average, skinny bloke calling his ego imagination?” Maybe he’s exactly what he suspects, but he gets points for a moment of clever wording and self-awareness. “Happiness,” the second single, introduces the album’s lyrical theme, with the protagonist asking to “Show me your love,” only to get the response, “Why don’t you grow up and see?” The musical setting has a jazzy pop R&B feel, with plenty of horns and a street-smart sax solo. “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” takes on how toxic masculinity and our gun culture combine to create deadly results when “the boy with the plan and a gun in his hand is lookin’ for somebody to love.”

If Healy’s songs are asking a bigger question about the viability of a loving relationship in the modern era, “Oh Caroline” finds a lover eager to “get it right this time,” even though they appear too late to the plate, and similarly “I’m In Love With You” wonders if it’s possible to sustain a loving relationship, written with the feel and hook of a classic top 40 pop song. Stripped back to simple piano, guitar, bass and drums for the light, bluesy “All I Need to Hear,” Healy sings a line that captures the way so many seek comfort in music: “I get out my records when you go away,” as he pleads for the object of his affections to “tell me you love me.”

In a fun song about family gatherings at Christmas-time, “Wintering” offers up the joys and foibles of relatives gathering from a far, as the singer assures “I’ll drive up on the twenty-third.” A tender piano ballad with bits of organ and saxophone, “Human Too” is a cry for forgiveness and acceptance, while “About You,” which includes a bridge sung by guitarist Adam Hann’s wife Carly Holt, is about the lasting memories of those we have loved in the past. The album closing 11th track is a gentle acoustic folk song with violin, about the ending of a relationship, perhaps one of Healy’s more public ones, as he writes of “the day we both got cancelled/because I’m a racist and you’re some kind of slag.” But the point of the song is not the names others have called them online, but rather Healy’s realization that healing and growth often come from a supportive loving relationship, when he sings “the only time I feel I might get better is when we are together.”

Whether this decidedly pop leaning sound is a permanent shift for The 1975 seems quite unlikely, given the breadth of their musical experiments on 2020’s Notes on a Conditional Form and 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Still, Being Funny times out at a briefer 45 minutes, which allows the band to maintain musical and lyrical themes throughout, while delivering a collection of sturdy, artful songs in their own right. Antonoff’s production tends to polish off the rough edges, which in the past have delivered some of The 1975’s more compelling musical moments. On the whole, this is a strong example of Healy’s musical and lyrical gifts, captured in some of his strongest pop songs yet.

“Part Of the Band” / “I’m In Love With You” / “All I Need To Hear”

The Killers / Panic! At the Disco / Passion Pit

Notes On A Conditional Form (2020) / A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018) / I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (2016) / The 1975 (2013)

Official Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Bandcamp | Interscope Records

Brian Q. Newcomb

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