The early years of the British pop-rock group The 1975 are awash in an unusual amount of myth-making for a band from this decade (Ian Cohen has the basics in the first few paragraphs of his review of their first album). Their debut self-titled album contained several achingly brilliant guitar pop songs – the impossibly catchy “Chocolate”, the emo throwback “Sex”, the boy-band-with-guitars “Girls” – but was hindered by being just a little too long and containing a few too many interludes.
On their second effort, the wordily titled I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, the band finds their calling as a medium for recreating the sound of ‘80s new wave acts for which there are no modern analogues. Aside from the INXS tributes that run through the record, there’s also songs that seem to recall Level 42 (“The Sound”), Scritti Politti (“UGH!”), Icicle Works (“The Ballad of Me and My Brain”), The Escape Club (“When I Believe You”), When in Rome (“Somebody Else”), and Prefab Sprout (“This Must Be My Dream”). The entire enterprise is much more than a “guess the influence” game, though. It’s a rewarding effort that recontextualizes the bands place in pop music: Away from the whole “indie” sphere and more towards the pop and new wave side of things, where they have always seemed to be more comfortable anyway.
Fans of the rockier side of The 1975 – songs like “Sex”, for instance – may feel a little short-changed by the album, but The 1975 never really struck me as a rock band to begin with. The idea of a pop band has become so rare that many try to stick groups like Neon Trees and Maroon 5 into “alternative” genres that they do not belong in. That’s the case with The 1975. And yet, songs like the ones that appear on I Like It When You Sleep once dominated alternative radio in the early years of the Billboard Modern Rock chart.
Of those INXS tributes, the first single “Love Me” is the most up-front. It’s an endearing slice of funky new wave with just the right amount of Michael Hutchence influence from singer Matt Healy. The guitars on the song are straight out of “What You Need” or “New Sensation” but crossed with the biting, witty lyrics that have become the band’s trademark (“We’ve just come to represent/A decline in the standards of what we accept!/Yeah?/No.)”
New wave inklings continue throughout the album. “UGH!” mixes a smooth synthpop sound with R&B flourishes and a chorus melody that recalls that of their earlier hit “Chocolate”. The influence of smoother music continues on the atmospheric “A Change of Heart”, and the New Jack Swing-esque “Loving Someone”. The band’s embrace of sophisti-pop is an interesting but welcoming one. It’s great to see a modern band tackle this music and do it well the way that The 1975 has here,
Among the album’s best songs is “She’s American” which relies on the band’s guitars interlocking with atmospheric synthesizers and gated drums. It’s also one of the band’s better chorus melodies on the record and reflects their ability to keep their musical identity even as they shift from genre to genre. Another great example here is “Lostmyhead”, a shoegazing song in the middle of a retro dance-rock record. The song recalls something they recorded back in 2012, but never once does it feel out-of-place: the gauzy, hazy guitars that populate the song simply feel like an extension of the album’s mood.
One of the standout tracks on the record is the arena-ready “The Ballad of Me and My Brain.” What it lacks in a giant chorus it makes up with a soaring melody and pure spunk. More than anything else here, it sounds like something that wouldn’t feel out-of-place on a Tears for Fears or Icicle Works album from the mid-80s.
There are parts of I Like It When You Sleep that don’t quite work: the somewhat unnecessary ambient interludes from the debut return, most notably the glitchy title track. It’s longest song on the entire 17-song record at nearly six and a half minutes and really doesn’t do anything to warrant the time spent on it. The album’s final two songs are acoustic guitar bedroom pop songs that work better as an emotional comedown – a flip of the lights at the end of the night of dancing, if you will – than as actual songs.
The only album from the past ten years that reminds me of I Like It When You Sleep is Patrick Stump’s bouncy, synth-funk solo record Soul Punk. Like that album, The 1975’s sophomore outing is a delightful and time-displaced late ‘80s pop record. The album is informed by the best pop-rock from the tail end of new wave before the genre faded off of alternative radio.
Like its predecessor, I Like It When You Sleep is a little on the long side, with a few too many ambient interludes. However, it is ultimately a winning collection of guitar pop that shines a light on an era of music that time seems to have forgotten, and has very few modern rock (or “indie,” as meaningless as that term is) signifiers. It is a sterling and frequently catchy hour-plus of throwback sophisti-pop that marks a successful evolution for a group once undeservedly tagged as a flash in the pan.