The 1975 is not known for keeping quiet. The British rebels have a history, both on social media and within the music industry, for challenging social norms and calling attention to the world’s complex problems. And the band’s latest album, Notes on a Conditional Form, which released May 22, details one of the group’s strongest messages yet: If we don’t fix the world, we are all going to die with it, and we are the only ones to blame.
While the album’s message is full of intricacies, addressing mental health and modern relationships within the narrative of environmental catastrophe, the band directs this message directly to young people, the very people whom the band says have been failed by older generations.
Each of the 1975’s previous three albums has started off with a self-titled track under two minutes long to introduce the record’s collective tones. The song is always the same — the same lyrics, the same cadence — but produced according to the unique style of the record the track introduces. Notes on a Conditional Form breaks this mold for the first time, opening the album with an inspirational speech calling for listeners to recognize our current “climate and ecological crisis.”
“Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around,” the spoken-word piece says. The voice on this track may sound familiar to some: It is not in fact a pitched-up version of lead singer Matty Healy’s voice, but rather 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who wrote the speech alongside Healy and instrumentalist George Daniel. By breaking tradition to spread this message, the band is shaking fans to attention, utilizing its platform to call for change. And the message doesn’t stop there — it only just begins.
The opening speech ends with the lines, “Everything needs to change, and it has to start today/ So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience/ It is time to rebel.” These lines lead chillingly into the opening march of “People,” a screaming anarchist anthem critiquing the modern world’s love of convenience at the expense of the environment. This song’s lyrics are commanding, gritty, powerful and honest, leaving no system unscathed as delivery services, consumer culture and government systems are called out for their lack of responsibility.
This outcry of a song is followed up by a grand orchestral piece, “The End (Music for Cars),” named after the band’s 2013 EP, Music for Cars. At first, it seems the band wraps up its message here, theatrically showing that the beginning two tracks hold the meaning, the essence, the meat and potatoes of its current activist mission.
But the story continues, suggesting how different societal problems are amplified under the light of ecological struggle. “Frail State of Mind” uses delicate production techniques to make the song feel as though it is constantly shifting, mimicking the racing thoughts, anxieties and crowdedness of trying to live peacefully within a crumbling environmental state, as the song details in its lyrics. The song comments on people’s likeliness to pull out their screens or turn to other escapist activities before going outside and connecting with the world, suggesting that technology is contributing to the world’s mental health crisis.
Orchestral pieces are further incorporated into the album after this point, seemingly bookending songs with heavier messages to give listeners breathing points between periods of exhaustive thought.
The only major break in theme is “The Birthday Party,” which describes Healy’s emotional state following a harrowing heroin addiction. Healy often speaks openly about his experience, and recounts the feelings in a soft, breathy track filled with bare acoustic guitar and traditionally folky instrumentation. Although it does not follow an ecological theme, it still points toward the environment — in this case, how the people and situations you surround yourself with can impact your behavior.
After only a third of the album’s 22 tracks, the songs become significantly more experimental than the 1975’s usual sound, incorporating shoegaze, club, folk, country, rock and hip-hop into the album’s latter portions — somehow.
Notes on a Conditional Form functions under no genre. Its message ultimately contributes to the cohesiveness of the record, raising the 1975 into a new echelon of creation.