To experience I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It is to somehow concede that The 1975, the self-titled debut album from Brit rock’s hottest band, is substandard or amiss. This is, of course, not true, but everything about The 1975 in the year 2016 seems to want you to feel that way. Or do they?
On looks alone, it’s easy to view I Like it When You Sleep as the band’s big crossover moment. What was once dreary and shrouded in black in white is now buzzing with bright, fluorescent pink light. What once appeared aloof is now standing center stage awash in spotlight. For a band that in the not-too-distant past bristled at notions of boy bandom and pop celebrity, it’s hard not to view this as one giant wink at the camera.
All of the pieces are in place for what’s building toward an epic rock and roll fairy tale: an enigmatic frontman, sharply self-aware promotion, persistent interest from the press, and a rapidly growing fanbase that’s nearing a fever pitch. Yet for all of the pomp and circumstance swirling about this reintroduction, the music itself sounds shockingly like The 1975. So what the hell is going on?
This isn’t necessarily the metamorphosis you’ve been led to believe it is – it’s just a better, much more satisfying view of the details. You already know that humming synthesizers have replaced a few guitars on I Like It When You Sleep, but the dirty little secret is that the band’s fantastic sense of melody and pop tendencies were actually there all along. I Like It When You Sleep simply capitalizes on those strengths in delightful ways.
Go back and listen to songs like “Settle Down”, “Robbers” and “Girls” from the band’s debut to find the building blocks for “Love Me”, “She’s American” and “The Sound”. Gone is the greyed-out rock façade and in is a band basking in the glow of 80s pop pleasure. The influence runs deep on this record, but The 1975 have managed to turn a trend into something all their own.
I Like It When You Sleep is far more akin to popping ecstasy to fight off the demons than it is to chewing bubblegum. Vocalist Matthew Healy has fully transformed from detached frontman to starkly self-aware singer who appears to be fighting off his own caricature. “It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me / A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe”, he slurs out on soon-to-be-smash single “The Sound”.
On this venture, Healy has exchanged many of the lovelorn barbs from the band’s debut with razor sharp commentary on fame and success. “Caught up in fashion, Karcrashian panache / And a bag of bash for passion”, he seethes on the ironically titled “Love Me”. Yet there’s still plenty of room here for self-reflection – on the jazzy “If I Believe You”, the atheistic Healy finds himself questioning: “I’m broken and bleeding / And begging for help / And I’m asking you Jesus, show yourself”.
With its constant tonal shifts, I Like It When You Sleep plays much like a cry for help, aided by the album’s constantly evolving soundscape. Here, the band’s music is just as manic as Healy’s own thoughts, refusing to be trapped or pigeonholed. Included are the obvious crossover singles we were promised, but the album’s best moments come in unexpected packages. “Somebody Else” is the sultry, yearning track we’re accustomed to from the band, but this time it’s dressed to the nines in slick synthesizers and rich programmed drums, harkening “Careless Whisper” darkness, only much more distressing . “Get someone you love? / Get someone you need? / Fuck that, get money”, Healy tells himself.
“A Change of Heart” finds the band treading in similarly gentle waters, but this track is less smooth and more defined by odd and blippy electronics, with Healy reflecting on an old flame. It’s here that the singer’s bite returns for a moment, as he sings, “You used to have a face straight out of a magazine / Now you just look like anyone”, mirroring his more delicate side from “Robbers” on the band’s debut: “She had a face straight out a magazine…” It’s the same inverse image of Healy’s take on his own mental health found on 2013’s “Heart Out” and here on “The Sound”.
It’s probably cliché to call I Like It When You Sleep a rollercoaster ride, but the psychological twists and turns are sure to delight many pop fans in search of substance, even if the 74-minute run time leaves some listeners feeling ill. The constant callbacks to The 1975 serve not only as a polite nod to original fans, but also make clear how much the band has grown in terms of songwriting ability in three short years. The depth of Healy’s wicked back and forth struggle, coupled with the new sonic territory simply makes for a superior album in every way.
The 1975 have weathered their fair share of criticism in the time leading up to this release. For anyone who still believes that selling out is a thing or that exchanging guitar riffs for dance beats is an unforgivable sin, I Like It When You Sleep will be just the fodder they need to continue their tirade. There’s a lot to love here for those ready to embrace the band as they are, but there’s plenty to hate if you’re so inclined.
When Kurt Cobain penned “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the national anthem of rebellion for Gen Xers, he was, in his own words, “trying to write the ultimate pop song.” He succeeded. That unmistakable guitar riff may have incited a collective revolt among the youth, but only by channeling the Pixies. In an unlikely twist, the bright lights, melodic musings and unmistakable smirk of The 1975 on I Like It When You Sleep is just about the most rock and roll thing the band could have done.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.