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September 23, 2013 5:57 pm
Like Barenaked Ladies (actually four clothed Canadian men) or The Pop Group (actually a violently antagonistic post-punk group), The 1975 have a misleading name. There is nothing remotely 1975-ish about them – no mutton-chop sideburns, no flares, no drum solos, no disco fever.
Instead the four young men from the suburbs of Manchester love the glossy pop of the 1980s, a fascination they refract through a curious amalgam of other styles, from emo to 1990s R&B. To anyone born around the time of their name (a tiny minority at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire) they are a puzzling prospect. But to contemporaries the foursome are the latest big thing – their self-titled debut album entered the UK charts at number one this month.
On stage, all in black, wreathed in shadows and dry ice, they looked like a gothic industrial act. As singer Matt Healy opened his mouth to sing, you expected a deep sonorous voice to issue forth, a Sisters of Mercy-style proclamation of doom. What actually emerged was an insistent, boyish cry about wanting “to find love” in the city, soundtracked by big drums, big synths and a big bass line. During a dramatic pause in the song, the silence was filled by the sound of female fans screaming. It was a disorienting collision between brooding alt-rock aesthetics and unhinged boyband fervour.
The pick-and-mix approach to genres continued with “Milk” (My Bloody Valentine with emo choruses) and “M.O.N.E.Y.” (slinky 1990s R&B). Meanwhile their 1980s influences mapped out a provocatively different decade from the beloved New Order-Smiths-Stone Roses traditions of their home city. “Settle Down” was slick pop-funk about a “girl” with “hair all over the place”; brat pack visions of a dishevelled Molly Ringwald came to mind. “Girls” channelled Prince counter-intuitively into a song about resisting temptation.
The wind-tunnel vocals and Simple Minds chug of “Robbers” revealed an ominous tendency towards the worst of 1980s bombast, as though The 1975 were meddling with some of the decade’s most dangerous mojo. But their eclectic, YouTubed way of browsing the past (at least until about 1984) made perfect sense on the two most rapturously received songs, the catchy anthems “Chocolate” and “Sex”, in which the timeless pop staples of youthful rebellion and sexual frustration were replayed as though for the first time. “And this is how it starts,” Healy sang, to the delight of his 1990s-born fans.
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