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Being Funny in a Foreign Language - The 1975


The 1975 are one of Britain’s biggest, and arguably most divisive, bands. With a back catalogue of albums that span multiple genres including synth-pop, indie and rock. They are also well known for frontman and songwriter Matty Healy’s relevant lyricism, social commentary and self-reflection (and the occasional online controversy). The band released their fifth studio album Being Funny in a Foreign Language this October, and we asked three of our writers to tell us what they think…


A black and white line drawing of one of the press shots for the album release. It shows the four members of the band, all wearing black suits, posing seriously. The front man, Matty Healey, is peering off to one side, a surprised expression on his face.
The 1975, illustration by Michaela-Jay Appleton

Tom


I still question why we nod to music, so frequently have I joined in the sentimental nodding to a DJ’s end-of-the-night pick. Is it agreement with a track’s funk, its lyrics, or both? Whatever the answer, I nodded a lot to The 1975’s latest offering – they know what’s up.


“Maybe it’s all just fucked”. I’m confident we’ve all felt or thought that at some point. Well, thankfully, Being Funny in a Foreign Language is far from bungled, even as it ruminates on the notion that the world might be. This young adult’s disco articulates this through a winning cacophony of the bright, dark, and real, and the 1975’s quirk and imagination.


The opening track ‘The 1975’ nicely formulates what follows, musically and lyrically capturing the frantic and panic of a life in your 20s; “making an aesthetic out of not doing well/ mining all the bits of you, you think you can sell”. My mind raced as the song built before taking us to (in my imagination) a whirring tunnel, the repeated lyrics “it’s about time” then an apology “if you’re in it and you’re 17”. The track is capped off with noisy, jazzy riffs, heightening in ambiguity, mirroring the human experience.


This existentialism continues, with grooves and a thumping heart energising much of this album. So is the band’s strategy, with their frequent call and response encouraging this, especially in ‘Looking for Somebody to Love’. Personally, I was more fond of the rawer, soulful jam ‘All I Need to Hear’, where Healy seems to want to throw it all away, it’s tender and with a sense of wanting to kick celebrity fame far from this world. If this album carries a story (and I’d sure love to animate it, so Netflix, do call me), it’s in the more homely final tunes, providing lovely answers to this twist.


It’s the song ‘Part of the Band’ that clicked with me most. It sensitively argues that imagination is our greatest place of comfort – one where Healy confesses “I fell in love with a boy”. He posits the complexity of communicating in an internet-ridden world. Healy likes men “full of soy milk and so sweet”, and shows his awareness of being self-aware, asking when it’s an act. These commentaries on masculinity and ego are very welcome from a singer so intrigued by culture wars.


Elsewhere, other truths – ones that materialise at different points in a person’s journey – are shared. Happiness comes from doing what we see as good; the extent to which we go to be loved is scary; we’ll take forever to say the most important things; and it’s so vital to listen, not just adore. Between these, Being Funny carries a cooler vibe than its divisive and ambitious predecessor, Notes on a Conditional Form. Sometimes scaling back, looking in and pausing your vision can get you closer to it – for me, that’s the outcome of The 1975’s work on this album.


What can I say? The more you stop searching, the more you’re at peace.


A  photo of the four members of the band, all wearing black suits, posing seriously. The front man, Matty Healey, is peering off to one side, a surprised expression on his face.
The 1975, photo by Samuel Bradley

Elena


The 1975 are known for their long, sprawling, and often chaotic records that blend multiple genres, and I think it’s important to understand Being Funny in a Foreign Language within the context of the band’s discography. Their previously released album Notes on a Conditional Form was a 22-track flow of consciousness, where the country-folk of ‘The Birthday Party’ met Burial-inspired garage tracks like ‘I Think There’s Something You Should Know', and exciting but dividing experimentation in tracks like ‘Shiny Collarbone’.


Being Funny in a Foreign Language avoids some of the band’s previous hindrances and does a great job of being concise and coherent. Looking at it as an album, it’s the easiest to listen to from the band's career, and works as the best introduction to the 1975’s sound for a new listener.


In the first track, ‘The 1975’, the piano pays a homage to LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’, presenting the band’s tongue-in-cheek approach to music that is often a cause for criticism. This record goes hard with the 80s-inspired pastiche the 1975 are best at. ‘Happiness’, ‘Looking For Somebody (To Love)’, ‘Oh Caroline’ and ‘I’m In Love With You' are all solid pop songs with lush production, funky guitars, wide vocals, and big sax solos.


Another difference between this record and their previous ones is the co-production of pop producer Jack Antonoff, whose influence is painted all over the record and especially in songs like ‘Wintering’. The 1975’s distinct sound has fortunately not disappeared, but is shaped into their desire to always evolve. Despite the record missing their more electronic sound, that I think always presented beautifully, the album’s production isn’t any less lush — it feels carefully crafted, as I would expect from a 1975 record. A few songs, including multiple ballads, explore a more low-key sound and production, such as ‘All I Need To Hear’ and ‘Part Of The Band’. The latter half of the album is considerably slower in pace, but not to be dismissed, especially with the monumental ‘About You’ with its distorted synths, guitars and deep vocals.


Lyrically, we can also appreciate lead singer Matty Healy’s development. Departing from his usual themes of irony, postmodernism and self-reference, the writing in this album unashamedly embraces being earnest. At face value, Healy’s lyrics might come across as simple or unimaginative. But looking deeper, this is the first time we hear him go “I’m in love with you” or “tell me you love me, cause that’s all I need to hear”. After four albums of “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”, we could interpret this lack of poetic irony as an artistic choice. It’s also worth pointing out how well executed the vocal production in this record is, and I will attribute that highly to Healy’s improved vocal performance. He was always great at singing with emotion, but in this record we hear more confidently-delivered performances.


This album’s flaw is that it is perhaps the most superficial and least courageous of their discography. There’s not much experimentation, and while it avoids the lows of other albums by cutting filler, it doesn’t contain as many highs as I Like It When You Sleep and A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships. But on the other hand, this is The 1975’s ‘different’, and why not embrace one cohesive album in a divisive discography.



A black and white illustration of a person jumping on top of an old car with their arms out to the sides.
Illustration by Michaela-Jay Appleton, inspired by the album artwork

Sophie S


I used to love The 1975, a couple of years ago I would have considered myself one of their biggest fans, and I can prove this with the Matty Healy cardboard cut-out that lives in my bedroom at the foot of my bed. Then one day in January of 2021 a personal experience caused me to fall out of love with the band, hard and fast. So, all of a sudden I couldn’t listen to my favourite band anymore…until now. As cliché as it sounds, this album feels like falling in love. When they released the first singles, I knew that this was my opportunity to fall in love with one of my favourite bands again.


‘Happiness’ and ‘I’m In Love With You’ are instant hits. The moment I pressed play on them I was grooving, and was once again excited for their new music. I think the band has a gift for writing devastatingly accurate lyrics that seem to be relevant to a lot of teens and people in their early 20s. By accompanying these with catchy tunes they seem to always capture the nuances of growing up in this time period, and how simultaneously awful yet incredible it is. Even the most simple lyrics in songs like ‘I’m In Love With You’ made me feel the strongest emotions. This album had me dancing and crying at the same time, like a good album from The 1975 should.


It's hard to pinpoint my favourite tracks because each song has its own charm. There are a few that are reminiscent of the band’s earlier era, in that they have an extreme 80s pop feel and the only acceptable way to dance to them is to excitedly bounce around. Yet they have still given us some songs with a slower vibe. While I enjoyed their previous album Notes on a Conditional Form, this is a clear improvement in all areas. I can wholeheartedly say with my entire chest, that there are zero skips on this album, each song is a complete display of the sheer talent that is The 1975.


Being a fan of them can be hard work sometimes, constantly having to defend them to people who have listened to one song from their first album, and decided that because the majority of their fan base are teenage girls then surely they must be terrible musicians (which is simply not true). Being Funny in a Foreign Language is a true reflection of the band's range and ability to produce banger after banger, and I will stand by that.


This album feels like dancing in the kitchen with my sisters, it feels like having DMC’s (deep meaningful chats), drinking red wine and chain smoking with my friends at 3am, it feels like appreciating the little things in life that make you happy to be alive. Basically, Being Funny in a Foreign Language is well worth a listen, even if you consider yourself to be 'anti-The 1975', you might surprise yourself and actually enjoy it.


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