In the three years since The 1975’s debut, their reputation has grown rapidly. The slow-burning success of their singles resulted in a hit album, but it’s their outspoken frontman, Matt Healy, who has made The 1975 one of the most debated mainstream groups, loved and derided in equal measure. Their first album successfully bridged the gap between pop and rock with R&B tinges. I Like It When You Sleep continues that theme, as well as adding atmospheric leftfield pop that appeared on their early EPs. It will be a surprise to people who wrote them off the first time round.
Healy has spoken about the group’s obsession with 80s pop and the singles reflect this. ‘UGH!’ glistens with the slick funk of Scritti Politti and the confrontational ‘Love Me’ mixes INXS guitars with Notorious-era Duran Duran. The latter is provocative, with lyrics aimed at their detractors: “we represent the declining standards we’ve come to accept”. The Alphabeat meets Wham pop of, ‘The Sound’, complete with its ‘Digital Love’ solo, is an 80s pop rush. These songs represent only a fraction of The 1975’s sound.
Healy cites The Blue Nile as an influence, which is noticeable on instrumental, ‘Please Be Naked’. This begins the experimental middle section of the record. The thrilling, ‘Lostmyhead’ recalls M83 with its mix of shoegaze and synth pop. On ‘The Ballad Of Me & My Brain’ Healy sounds passionate as the drums and synths clatter around him, showing how ambitious the band have become. This beautiful sequence ends with the stunning title track. It starts as a minimalist electro ballad and morphs into something unexpected as the sparkling textures build.
The nostalgic, ‘Somebody Else” embodies all their influences. It has keyboards that could be from an 80s Janet Jackson ballad whilst recalling Hall & Oates at their most mellow. It changes tempo as Healy imitates Michael McDonald and sings, “get someone you love, get someone you need, f**k that get money” which is a hook that sticks. D’angelo is an influence on the sensual, ‘If I Believe In You’, which has production so dynamic and full of details, it could be by Trevor Horn. Healy shows vulnerability in the lines, “I’m petrified of being alone, it’s pathetic”; it’s a refreshing contrast to his confident public persona. Healy has a gift for endearing lyrics that sound clever and ridiculous at the same time, such as, “You said I’m full of diseases, your eyes were full of regret, and then you took a picture of your salad, and put it on the Internet”.
The 1975 are challenging people with this album — it’s 75 minutes long and almost gets away with it, falling at the last hurdle. ‘Nana’ and ‘She Lays Down’ are acoustic ballads that feel like bonus tracks rather than part of the overall narrative. These two songs stop this album from being a complete triumph. The preceding song, ‘Paris’,, would have made a perfect closer with its delicate Fleetwood Mac synths and Avalon-era Roxy Music guitars.
I Like It When You Sleep shares the same aesthetics as the latest records by Carly Rae Jepsen, Haim and Paramore successfully using 80s influences whilst remaining contemporary. The album is a huge leap in quality from the first record. It’s as if Prince had released 1999 and jumped straight to Sign “O” The Times. Sign “O” The Times is another influence here, especially with the same overreaching ambition. The 1975 are not defined by their numerous influences. They have style, and the substance to back it up. This is an exhausting and compelling record that’s so fully realised it’s hard to imagine where they’d go from here. Now that it’s already made number one in the UK and America, it will be remembered as one of the most challenging and best records to do so.