Album Review: “Notes on a Conditional Form” by The 1975

By Carolina Garibay

The 1975 has remained, for the most part, consistent. Most people have been able to form expectations about what new music from The 1975 will sound like, until now. 

If you approached “Notes on a Conditional Form” expecting to hear something like “Chocolate” or “The Sound,” you’re going to have to modify your expectations. At this point, The 1975 no longer have a defining sound, and the lines between the genres the band falls into are blurred more than ever. Their past albums have produced some bangers, and though this album has some good songs, none of them change your life the way songs, such as “Menswear” and “If I Believe You” from past albums, might have. Maybe, though, this is the point, and consistent with lead singer Matty Healy’s philosophy, perhaps we should focus on where The 1975 is going and how they’re evolving as a band rather than comparing “Notes” to past albums made for a different time. 

Since the first album, The 1975 has started each album the same way, with different variations of the same song – “The 1975.” This song has been their theme song since 2013, and fans have had a general idea of how the song is going to sound. Beginning with an ambient instrumental, “The 1975” features climate activist Greta Thunberg, who delivers a passionate 5-minute speech on the dangers of climate change and the urgency with which leaders must act to limit the effects of climate change. Healy describes this album’s version of “The 1975” as the modern take on the song, which is the general idea for the rest of the tracks as well. 

“People,” the loud, screamo-punk song that was first released as a single in 2019, reinforces Greta’s speech in the previous song as Healy aggressively sings/screams, “Stop f—— with the kids.” Without hearing the rest of the album, this song might seem uncharacteristic of The 1975 and even annoying. After hearing “The 1975,” though, this song makes much more sense and becomes slightly more bearable. 

The following song, “The End (Music for Cars),” is a soft instrumental (the first of several instrumentals on this album) that resembles some of the band’s earlier instrumentals. Layered over “HNSCC” on the band’s first album, “The 1975,” “The End (Music for Cars)” serves as a compliment; this is just one of the several references to earlier albums that the band makes throughout “Notes.” This song mellows out the intensity of “People” and sets up the next song, “Frail State of Mind,” which was released in October 2019 and picks up the album a little more while still serving as a more laid-back song. Here, Healy apologizes for what could be social anxiety or an inability to connect, singing, “Go outside? / Seems unlikely / I’m sorry that I missed your call / I watched it ring” and “I’m sorry ’bout my (Frail state of mind).” 

“Streaming” is another mediocre instrumental full of strings, but it transitions beautifully into the next track, “The Birthday Party,” pre-released in February. This song is another slow song that, though interestingly comments on the details of small talk at parties, is too long to discuss such a trivial activity. 

The middle portion of “Notes” is where the album finally begins to pick up. “Roadkill,” a funny, Midwestern, almost folky song, reminisces on the band’s experiences touring America as Healy sings, “I pissed myself on a Texan intersection / With George spilling things all over his bag / And I took s— for being quiet during the election.” 

“Me and You Together Song” is also one of the band’s stronger songs on the album where Healy expresses feelings for a childhood friend who doesn’t feel the same way. Several great songs follow, including “I Think There’s Something You Should Know,” a song about expressing feelings of isolation and depression to a friend who’s oblivious to that friend’s feelings. This song may hit hard with people who experience or have experienced depression. Healy shares common thoughts people who have depression may have, such as “Feeling like someone, like somebody else, / I don’t feel myself, it could be my hell” and “You get a moment when you feel alright.” 

Continuing The 1975’s streak of strong songs on “Notes” is “Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied,” whose gospel-like chorus is reminiscent of “If I Believe You” from the band’s third album. This song, however, has a more lo-fi hip-hop feel. 

“Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy) is a lighter track that uses a sample by The Temptations in the beginning and resembles something retro that belongs in the late 90s. This song shows a different side of The 1975, as they don’t usually make much retro music. 

If the entire 70s music era and “Girls” (from “The 1975”) had a baby, that baby would be “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know).” Released a couple of weeks ago, “If You’re Too Shy” is probably the most The 1975 sounding song on the whole album. If you were expecting to hear the old The 1975 sound, listen to this because it’s the only track that will give you that classic The 1975 sound that a lot of people associate the band with. 

The album ends with “Guys,” a soft track that Healy describes as “a love song for friendships.” Accompanied by a beautiful music video that reflects on The 1975’s experiences as a band, “Guys” is Healy’s ode to friendships where he’s not afraid to be completely open about the love he has for his bandmates. While listening to this song, you’ll be reminded of how much you love and miss your best friends, and it might encourage you to tell them, as Healy puts it, “You guys are the best thing that ever happened to me.” 

“Notes on a Conditional Form” is a good album. I was hoping for something that would provide me with almost an enlightening experience the way some of their older albums did. I am aware, however, that the band wants to look ahead rather than reflect on their past music, so I’ll give the album a little leeway. Still, though, musically speaking, this album was just OK, but I was hoping for something great.