Apparently I’m supposed to hate this record. After releasing an admittedly bland debut album and proceeding to establish a teenage audience worthy of their own Urban Dictionary entry, the 1975 have oddly drawn in a considerable amount of ire from a considerable portion of the music industry within their short existence. This isn’t just your average today’s-music-sucks-Led-Zeppelin-is-the-only-good-music-that-exists teenage rant either; they’ve even received disses usually reserved for only the most banal of mainstream acts. It seems as though hating the 1975 is quite a voguish statement to make in 2016.
Note: I was even assigned this record not under its actual title, but instead, “The 1975 Garbage”.
Surely there are worse bands to fashionably hate. I mean, yeah, “UGH!” is about as Tumblr-esque of a title as you can get, but what’s to detest about such solid production and funky grooves? Or “Love Me”, which channels Young Americans-era David Bowie alongside a catchy guitar line and all sorts of charmingly odd synth spasms? Or “If I Believe You”, a 6-minute jam containing a swelling choir background and a delightful trumpet solo in its back half?
But perhaps the most impressive thing about I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful and yet so unaware of it (besides the impressively bad title) is that many of the deeper cuts here stand up well behind the big singles. “Nana”, for instance, has a subtle acoustic riff that compliments its mellow synthetic background, while conversely “Please Be Naked” has an ambient progression straight out of the Eno playbook. Variety in general is a factor the 1975 seems to enjoy playing with here, and it’s a welcome one for such a long record. It also proves the band is willing to take some risks and test their youthful audience, lending an extra dimension to what could’ve been another run-of-the-mill pop project.
Even the components that were most detrimental on the debut record have improved greatly. The vocals, for one, have been cleaned up a good amount, which should give anyone who heard Matt Healy’s singing on The 1975 a major sigh of relief. The songwriting is better on all fronts as well and the low points don’t get anywhere near as nauseating as, say, “Chocolate“. That said, there are still poor songs here and there. “The Sound” sounds, well, pretty terrible, with a painfully piano-driven house beat and production that begs for some form of alternative inspiration. “A Change of Heart” and “The Ballad of Me and My Brain” don’t do anyone any favors either, but rather standing out as being bad on their own, they inflict their damage by being placed in the worst possible positions within When you sleep. The tracks prior to these two have the band on quite a roll, with a two-song pop tour de force coming right before “Heart” and a stellar three-song chain of mellowed-out synth spectacles just prior to “Brain”. Both, however, slaughter the mood in their poor lyricism and instrumental blandness, snapping the momentum of the record like a toothpick.
Still, the 1975 deserve credit for this much improvement in such a short period of time, and avoided the monotony and blandness that has haunted them in the past. They have proven that not only will a mainstream audience not stop them from taking risks, something that was much needed on prior work, but that they are not afraid to kick out the radio pop in full force, even if it turns out to be uncool. It appears the ire is unwarranted this time around.
– Brock S.