My Track-By-Track Breakdown of The 1975’s ‘Notes On a Conditional Form’
Earlier this year (after much delay), English band, The 1975, released their fourth full-length LP — their longest, boldest and most complex album yet — ‘Notes On a Conditional Form’.
The album explores seemingly every genre of music while also making subtle and frequent references to the band’s signature sounds and lyrics. It’s also their first album that includes features by other artists.
Below is my unprofessional and biased attempt at breaking down each track:
As with all 1975 albums, ‘Notes’ begins with a self-titled opening track - this time, however, instead of once again remaking their classic “The 1975” opener (a song about oral sex), the album begins with a spoken-word track featuring 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.
In it, we hear Greta delivering a speech inspired by one she made to French lawmakers in July of 2019:
Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it — we have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gasses.
By the end of its four minutes and 56 seconds, Greta’s speech and the quiet orchestral music in the background have made an alarming and powerful statement with which to open the album.
In a move that only The 1975 would make, the track was the first official release from the album, planting a firm stake in the ground by the band that ‘Notes’ was going to be something completely different.
“People” picks up right after Greta’s call for us to “rebel” at the end of “The 1975,” and begins with lead singer, Matty Healy, screaming at us to, “Wake up, wake up, wake up!” The song is a surprising and loud punk-metal song.
With lyrics like, “My generation wanna fuck Barack Obama / living in a sauna with legal marijuana,” it’s another climate change call-to-action. Written from the perspective of the guilty Millennial generation, the song is a reminder that it’s the generation of our children who will pay for what we do to the planet - “Stop fucking with the kids,” Matty pleads.
Ultimately, “People” is the last time we hear the theme of climate change specifically addressed within the lyrics of ‘Notes.’ It makes me wonder why they chose to keep Greta’s speech as the opening song. But with a fanbase that mostly skews younger (wink, wink), the band was smart to take a strong stance on this issue, even if it didn’t follow through into the rest of the album. The band also practiced what they were preaching: they released ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’ on vinyl/CD using recycled cardboard, screen-printed over old t-shirts for new merchandise, and - prior to their tour being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic - had promised an eco-friendly/low-carbon-footprint show.
The End (Music For Cars)
The 1975 is known for instrumental tracks and interludes woven throughout their albums, but this is the first time we are given full-blown orchestral goodness from them.
Perhaps placed here to allow the listener to come back down after the jarring “People,” I think this song may have been better suited towards the end of the album, especially as the song title makes reference to the end of this specific “era” (The 1975 have explained that their previous album, ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships,’ plus this album, together make up their “Music For Cars” era).
The song is full of lush, cinematic strings, and triumphant horns - a glimmer of hope to play contrast to the loud doom and gloom from “People” and the opening track.
Frail State of Mind
Four songs in, and we finally get a song that really reminds us that we are listening to a 1975 album.
Taking us back to the sounds of earlier music from The 1975, the track has a garage-style broken beat and drum track, which perfectly complement Matty’s lyrics on encountering intimacy within his fragile sense of existence.
“Frail State of Mind” finds Healy exploring how his depression complicates his interpersonal relationships and leaves him feeling as if he needs to apologize for it (“I’m sorry that I missed your call / I watched it ring / ‘don’t waste their time’ / I’ve always got a frail state of mind”).
Beginning with the lyric, “Go outside? / feels unlikely,” the song also became my unofficial theme song of the pandemic.
With “Streaming” we get a second purely-instrumental track, only five songs into the album. A second instrumental track so quickly feels off to me, but at only one minute and 33 seconds, “Streaming” feels more like a short interlude and setup for the album’s next song.
As “Streaming” fades quickly into its interstellar ending, we are gifted one of the strongest tracks on the album. Lyrically my favorite song from ‘Notes,’ “The Birthday Party” teeters both lovable cringe (“Drink your kombucha / and buy an Ed Ruscha”) and sincerity (“You know that I could sue you if we’re married and you fuck up again…”) in a way that only Matty Healy could deliver.
The song is one of the softest and sweetest-sounding songs on the album, and it unfolds like an illustrated children’s book written for grown-ups. Apparently a true story about a Christmas party that Matty attended, every lyric reads like a new page from the book and covers themes in Matty’s life like drug addiction, sobriety/recovery, success, friendship, cheating, and having to take a shit while sharing a hotel room with someone you love.
Yeah I Know
I’m not sure what this song is about (“Live on Mars / fuck it up”), but I do know that I like how it feels. A perfect song for a late, weekend-night drive, but it’s probably not a song that I’d want to hear at a live show. It has an infectious beat and a repetitive structure that perfectly encapsulates the distorted Music For Cars era.
Then Because She Goes
One of my least favorite tracks on ‘Notes,’ this song reminds me a lot of the softer-sides of late ‘90s post-grunge music (I think of Silverchair every time I hear it). The song fails to really take off into anything interesting.
Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America
A quiet and acoustic song with 1975 pal and would-have-been tour opener, Phoebe Bridgers, “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” finds Matty dealing with religion and queer issues. Its lyrics again are some of my favorite on the album.
The band has historically embraced their LGBTQ+ fans, even aligning some of their older releases with these themes (“Loving Someone”), but ‘Notes’ as an entire album finds Matty making repeated gay references with regards to himself, with “Jesus Christ…” being the most obvious on the album. For the record, Healy does not identify with any particular sexuality.
Matty and Phoebe alternate and share verses, singing about God, acceptance, hidden romance, plane crashes and masturbation - normal 1975 stuff. It’s a strong stand-alone song, but somehow in its quietness gets swallowed a bit by the rest of the genre-bending album.
“Roadkill” is The 1975’s successful attempt at a honkey-tonk tune. The song appears to be about life on the road/tour and the dizzying sense of reality and survival that comes with being a touring musician (“Hundred-forty when I last got weighed / and I’m gonna lose more by Saturday”). He also references his “tucked-up erection” and acknowledges his silence during the 2016 American election - both pleasing and jabbing back at his ever-critical fans.
As somewhat of a newer resident to the state of Texas, I appreciate the country sensibility of the song, the twang in Matty’s vocals, and the shout-out to taking a piss on a Texas road.
Me & You Together Song
Another late ‘90s/early 2000s-sounding track, but a more pop-forward approach, “Me & You Together Song” sounds like something you could have heard on TRL between Britney and Christina videos. It’s a simplistic love song that just makes you feel kinda warm, especially when he sings, “I fell in love with her in stages.”
I Think There’s Something You Should Know
Another standout track, “I Think There’s Something You Should Know,” feels like the sequel to “Frail State of Mind.” Matty is telling us exactly how he feels (not great) and is no longer apologizing for it.
The production of the song is a real testament to George Daniel - drummer and lead “mastermind” behind a lot the band’s sound. It’s a dazzling 1975 song that seems to find most of its influence from house music.
I think there’ something you should know
I’m feeling like “someone” / like “somebody else”
I don’t feel “myself” / it could be my health
I’d like to meet myself and swap clothes
I think there’s something you should know
Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied
Coming off the open vulnerability of the previous track, “Nothing Revealed…” begins with a choir of voices, then transitions into Matty “rapping” à la Taylor Swift and “Love It If We Made It” (the apocalyptic single from their previous album). The song also features Jamaican musician, Cutty Ranks, rapping alongside Matty - a feature that somehow works extremely well.
The song feels part gospel, part hip-hop, part rap. The lyrics feature Healy doing what he does best - being too brutally honest (“You don’t fuck with your poor fans / you need the rich ones to expand your floor plans”), for fear that admitting anything less than the vicious truth would make him a liar.
Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)
“I Wish I Was Your Boy” is the kind of 1975 song that could make a fan out of anyone. It’s a fun, twinkling, R&B pop love song, written for Generation Z.
Like many other tracks on ‘Notes,” the song is another case-in-point to the universality and real artistry behind The 1975. The song just sounds really, really good, and it could easily be a top 40 hit.
Probably my least favorite track on the album.
If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
Album stand-out and quintessential 1975 banger, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is a shiny, shimmery, saxophone-filled, 80s-inspired pop song about virtual sex and camming (and it’s just as good as that description makes it sound).
Beginning with echoing vocals from none-other than FKA twigs, the song slowly builds into a slick guitar lick, and then finally opens up into an explosion of 80s-emo-pop-rock-bubblegum.
The band initially played “If You’re Too Shy…” at a handful of European tour dates in early 2020, prior to a proper release from the label, and the track basically took off on its own via fan-recorded YouTube videos.
Ultimately, it became the second-to-last single released before the album, and upon release it became the bands biggest streaming hit to-date. If the 1975 had a “signature” sound, this might be it, although, no other song on ‘Notes’ sounds like it.
Make sure you listen to the full-length album version for the fully-realized saxophone solo.
Playing On My Mind
If “Roadkill” was honkey-tonk, “Playing on My Mind” is pure folk meets early-1975. I should probably appreciate this song more (and I probably will one day), but I usually skip it.
Having No Head
Another (mostly) instrumental track, but this time feeling like a fully-formed 1975 song. The song has an anxious, slow-building intensity to it, as if it’s a heartbeat slowly racing out of control.
Every time I hear this song I think of the music that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored for the film, The Social Network. “Having No Head” is hands-down the best instrumental track on the album, and one of their finest instrumental tracks as a band.
If you like this song, also check out “How To Draw / Petrichor” from their last album, and “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” from their second full-length album (by the same name).
What Should I Say
Another show-stopping George Daniel track, this song sounds like a marriage between “Yeah I Know” and “I Think There’s Something You Should Know.” It features a distorted vocals and a starry dance beat and would be perfect at a festival main stage in between their biggest hits.
Bagsy Not In Net
Probably the song that from ‘Notes’ that had the greatest emotional impact upon me, “Bagsy Not In Net” finds Matty singing about being afraid to die, for fear of leaving his lover behind on their own. “Leaving you here is the thing that fear, so I fight it,” he sings.
It’s a short, simple, and beautiful song. The song very prominently samples the orchestral intro from Christopher Cross’ song, “Sailing” (1979), and the strings are a perfectly dissonant complement to the morbid question Matty asks his lover over and over again throughout the song: “Do you want to leave at the same time?”
Fun facts: Reddit sleuthing led me to uncover that the term “bagsy” is an English slang word similar our American slang word, “dibs,” and “net” likely refers to a “goalie” position (played alone). In other words: Matty doesn’t want him or his lover to die and leave the other behind.
The second to last song is a father-son lullaby, featuring vocals by Matty’s dad, Tim Healy.
It’s a beautiful song about family and loved ones always being there in spirit, even in physical distance, or after passing (family, and specifically the death of family members, are topics that Healy has covered quite a lot in his lyrics).
The song is the perfect transition into the album’s final moments.
The last song from ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’ is “Guys,” a love song written by Matty to his three bandmates. The lyrics are borderline cheese (“You guys are the best thing that ever happened to me”), but you can’t help but feel the admiration and gratitude he feels towards them, both professionally and personally. The sounds here again feel very early-2000s alt-pop, and it works very well for this level of sap.
“Guys” was the final single released before the full album, and I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t have tears in them hearing it for the first time. For an über-fan of the band like myself, the song is an emotional boner.