Review: The Singles of Notes on a Conditional Form

At the time of writing this, it is one day before the release of the 1975’s fourth album, Notes on a Conditional Form. So far, eight singles have been released ahead of the full album, which is already out in its entirety in Australia, but I am avoiding reading anything that will influence my opinion before I hear the full thing myself. Before I possibly change my opinion, I want to document my feelings on the singles I’ve heard so far.

Full disclosure, I love the 1975. They have been a huge part of my life, especially my high school years. But as much as I am a fan, none of the songs I’ve heard already have really made me excited to hear this album. Does that negate my love for this band? Not necessarily, but this is just to say you can be critical of your favorite artists and not love everything they put out and still be a fan.

The first single released was the song “the 1975”, which has been on each previous album, but usually with a change in sound that ushered in a new vibe for that album. However this iteration of the song was a speech given by climate change activist Greta Thunberg, which did not come as a surprise at all given the band’s continued advocacy for climate change and other causes.

With this change, fans were reasonably expecting a departure from the previous albums. Paired with the second single released, “People” which had a very garage rock/punk vibe that fans hadn’t heard overtly from the band before, I thought this album was going to be very different from what I was used to from the previous albums.

As more singles were released, the sound returned to more of what I was familiar with and what I associated with the 1975, but I ultimately found myself bored with the singles. It could be due to any number of reasons, I even worried if I was outgrowing one of my favorite bands. But from the songs I’ve heard so far, I’m feeling underwhelmed. Especially given the delayed release date for the album, I was expecting more from the hype.

Fans were quick to point out the similarities between “Frail State of Mind”, the third single, and two songs from the previous album “TOOTIME” and “I Like America and America Likes Me”. I really liked these two songs on the last album, and while I was happy to hear something similar on this album, I was more so hoping for something new and was left disappointed. Not only did it sound too similar to the songs I had already heard and liked, but this new song didn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table. It felt like if I wanted to hear something like “TOOTIME” or “I Like America” I would just go listen to the last album.

“Me & You Together Song” and “The Birthday Party”, the fourth and fifth singles respectively, intrigued me the most. “Me & You” had a ’90s coming-of-age movie vibe that was really well done and interesting. It also made me think about the band’s earlier incarnation as the band Drive Like I Do and this sounded like something I might hear from that time in the band’s history. Whereas “The Birthday Party” interested me with its lyrics and melody and made me want to sit with this song for a long period and dissect it for all of its parts. Unfortunately this was during the last weeks of my spring semester, so I was preoccupied and didn’t get a chance to do that yet, but I am looking forward to that time I will spend with this song.

“Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” came as the sixth single and with a feature from Phoebe Bridgers. This and the eighth final single “Guys” did probably the worst thing a song or piece of art could do — it made me feel nothing. I feel entirely indifferent towards these two songs. Nothing about them struck me as interesting on the first listen, not lyrically or musically. “Jesus Christ 2005” has admittedly started growing on me, but only in terms of I find myself singing “That’s irony” around the house. I’m still struggling with these two to find where they fit into the greater picture of what this work is trying to achieve.

The remaining seventh single “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” again sounded similar to a prior single, almost like a companion to “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” from the last album. It wasn’t the exact same song, like “Frail State of Mind” seemed to be with its counterparts, but this track seems to very much live in the same neighborhood as its predecessor, more so than any other single I’ve heard. That’s not to say I don’t like it — I do, but again it left me wishing for something new from the band that I know is capable of so much more interesting music.

I will say on a positive note that the songs released so far have been relatively cohesive and they definitely match the vibe of the previous album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, but also they should given that the two albums were made at the same time. Just knowing how much more this band is capable of pushing themselves, I do question why they didn’t release the two albums together. By separating them, it feels too much like the second release is just a recycling of the first.

While the singles do remind me of deeper cuts from previous albums, which I usually enjoy discovering in my first few listens, I think I may have enjoyed them more if I “discovered” them during a full listen through. As standalone singles, I don’t know that they have same intial power that “Love Me” or “Sincerity is Scary” did.

Of course this is just my opinion before the full release, but with so many tracks being released ahead of the album, I am slightly concerned that there won’t be anything left to surprise me or inspire me like the earlier albums have. I’m hoping to change my mind, but I am prepared to accept that the 1975 may have their first dud.

wannabe music writer | photographer | pittsburgh

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