It has been so long since I felt like this. Ricocheting against myself with the force of a slammed door traveling up a wrist, howling inside the closed room of my body but still somehow wide open to the mess of things, a sea spread flat and waiting for rain, waiting for sunshine, my surface dappled and troubled and permeable, a shivering mess of light and shadow: this is where I am these days, most hours awake and some sleeping too. I tremble a lot. Sometimes I catch a smell rising off my skin, hot and sharp, floral like the magnolia petals falling off the tree at the end of the block — ground into the pavement by someone’s careless heel, firm pearl pink cut through with rot.
It’s been three years since The 1975 released a full-length album and in that time I have mostly been getting to my desk job on time and remembering to pack a salad for lunch and hanging up my silk blouses when I get home. I’ve been steady. My skin has been okay. I’m grown, is what I’m saying, but lucky for me, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it dropped two months into the first time I’ve been off the birth control pill since I was sixteen, and this shitstorm of hormones leaves me in exactly the right emotional space to experience it for what it is. I’m a teenager again, utterly defenseless against the way the world moves into and through me, a conduit, bathed in my own electricity, jittering and dripping. I start splashing and sloshing and sparking hot when a wire touches me and there is a wire touching me almost all the time.
What I’m saying is, I was ready for this because I wasn’t ready for this.
This is music for teenagers, maybe even more than The 1975 was. This is sloppy and atmospheric and posturing. These are songs with brash dumb lyrics that are trying too hard, fake-cynical lyrics that don’t manage to disguise the emotion that brims and breaks and swells beneath them. Matty Healy chooses words like a stoned college sophomore whose midterm paper is due at noon, meaning mostly it’s a mishmash of messy diction masking ideas uncomplicated enough to shine through despite that, but sometimes he gets the glitter of something genuinely great. It’s fucked up to think that the same person who wrote “If I Believe You” — which muses on religious belief and atheism with all the nuance of a pretentious seventh grader who once read Richard Dawkins’ Twitter — can turn around and put out lines as biting and clean as I don’t want your body but I hate to think about you with somebody else.
A lot of these songs revolve around romance but rarely do the women in his songs function like traditional love objects; my favorite game is flipping the characters and marveling at how easy it is to imagine lines like you used to have a face straight out a magazine / now you just look like anyone as being sung at him instead of by him. The criticisms he levels at girl after girl become, in aggregate, a story more about him than about them, and meanwhile those criticisms are things like you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet, which rotate their subjects from reductive intellectual-bro stereotypes into tiny narratives so perfectly relatable and nuanced that I kick the air with delight every time I hear them. Does he know he’s doing that? Is he trying to be mean, or has he been dedicating himself to ensuring each person who appears in his songs seems three-dimensional enough to sustain a full-length novel? I honestly can’t tell, but if I had to bet money, I’d say he has no fucking clue.
What is infuriating about Matty Healy is that he thinks he’s so smart, but even more infuriating is that he actually is smart, just not in the ways he seems to think he is. He loves to talk in interviews about what he writes about — fame, philosophy, the bitterness of love, questioning God — but, frankly, he’s not giving us anything new on those fronts. What happens in these songs that pushes them from the trash your local litbro writes to actual fucking poetry is the way he fails over and over to be convincing, the way he demonstrates that a self is most purely beautiful in the places where it is unable to disguise its vulnerability, and he owes almost all of that to how fucking good he is at writing and producing music. It all happens in the sound.
If these were really rock songs, they’d be all wrong, but they’re all as pop as pop can be. Pick and choose any and all of the usual adjectives — lush, glittering, soaring, sugary, thumping, tremulous — they’re all there, but they’re new somehow, and that’s where the genius is. I mean, can you believe synths can still sound revelatory? Every third radio station is playing something that sounds like a Kygo remix (and don’t get me wrong, I love that), but this album is beyond that. “A Change Of Heart” starts out with a canned eighties-prom-slow-dance Casio beat and floats like a silver Mylar balloon into a theremin break which wavers gently through a sea of iridescent bubbly echoes that genuinely would not be out of place in an Enya song, and you guys, my heart! When I listen to this I forget I’m on the train, I forget I’m anxious, I forget I’m anywhere other than floating in a starry mist. I put myself at risk of stepping in dog shit every day because I can’t listen to “Somebody Else” without my chin tipping skyward while my feet move me forward over all those filthy streets that Matty Healy is pretending to talk about. This isn’t music for looking at the world clear-eyed and pointing out faults and spitting truth. This is music for feeling.
My favorite song on this album is “Paris.” I have a rule for myself that I’m not allowed to put repeat on for the songs I love, so their magic doesn’t wear thin, but I’ve broken it with this one. I think it will take me hundreds of listens more to find out why it makes my whole body sing with certainty and understanding, but for now I am preoccupied with how it sounds like acknowledging past selves — not any specific self, only those that once existed and are now gone, whether by accidental change or conscious growth. I never felt much heartache from Casablanca‘s classic “We’ll always have Paris,” and for me the buoyant refrain of how I’d love to go to Paris again, and again, and again and again, and— is its antithesis: you can choose to acknowledge an ending by glossing over your hurt with a certainty and finality you do not feel, or you can allow yourself to linger in how beautiful it would be to have it one more time. I always prefer to sink myself in the wanting. Besides, these days, walking past jasmine vines with a pink buzz of chemicals flooding my blood, it seems that sometimes it isn’t up to you anyway. No matter how much you believe a part of your life to be finished, it can always split you right back open.