The 1975 likes to keep people guessing. Early indications (and a Saturday Night Live appearance) hinted that the U.K. band’s second album, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, would be a gloss-funk homage to Prince, INXS, and Notorious-era Duran Duran. However, just like the group’s 2013 self-titled debut—a defiantly mismatched jumble of yelping indie-rock, vintage electropop, and the occasional soulful piano ballad—this new collection is wildly audacious.
“Please Be Naked” is a gorgeous, Sigur Rós-like instrumental with oceanic sound effects, music-box percussion, and cascading piano. This surging post-rock vibe continues on the very next song, “Lostmyhead,” before culminating with a grit-pop meditation on madness, “The Ballad Of Me And My Brain.” Nods to Imogen Heap’s ornate, layered arrangements (the glitchy title track), slinky ’80s R&B (highlight “Somebody Else”), and even solo acoustic-guitar confessions (the intimate “She Lays Down”) pop up elsewhere. These introspective moments stand in sharp contrast to I Like It When You Sleep’s obvious singles: “The Sound” leverages colorful disco house piano and electric guitar, “UGH!” is a beachy ode to the lure of cocaine, and both “She’s American” and “This Must Be My Dream” are gauzy, synth-pop daydreams with the requisite saxophone cameos.
In the hands of other bands, this slippery focus might feel like genre whiplash or a bait-and-switch. Yet the album coheres shockingly well, thanks to smart sequencing and the vocal progression of frontman Matt Healy: He’s no less larger-than-life on I Like It When You Sleep—his romantic fumbles and inner mental turmoil are fair game—but he’s much better at modulating his voice to match each song’s emotional timbre. Plus, the album’s mix of self-awareness and ambivalence resonates deeply: “The Sound” describes a totally self-absorbed guy who is yet alert enough to notice his crush, while “She’s American” is a sly commentary on cultural differences. And when Healy deadpan croons, “I’ll quote On The Road like a twat and wind my way out of the city,” on “A Change Of Heart,” he upends the sensitive-poet stereotype with a knowing wink.
The syrupy R&B jam “If I Believe You”—which boasts both a gospel choir and a jazzy trumpet—feels unsteady on its feet. But this unsteadiness is precisely why the song, and the rest of the album, works so well: The band finds strength and solace in uncertainty and vulnerability. Despite outward appearances, The 1975 doesn’t have anything figured out—but it isn’t afraid to push forward anyway and see what sticks.