The best album released this month revolves around an admitted egomaniac. He’s the kind of guy you either love or love to hate, and he spends the entire record grappling with fame, faith, family, fidelity, drugs, and their impact on his mental health. It’s a tonally incoherent record, leaping from genre to genre with abandon; its balance between piercing profundities and lyrical groaners is roughly even. You can call him whatever you want, but you can’t deny his ambition, and if you think I’m talking about Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo I can’t blame for you being mistaken.
The 1975’s second LP is called I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, an audacious and stupid title born when frontman Matthew Healy literally said it to an ex-girlfriend and thought it profound enough to write down. ("Not in such a poetic situation," Healy clarified to Billboard. "Not on her four-post bed as I leaned out the window with a cigarette.") If that’s repellent enough to send you screaming back to your Discover Weekly playlist, no one can blame you, not even Healy. "I’d rather people think I’m pretentious than not care," he told the NME. "The idea of provoking ambivalence is my biggest fear." (He’d go on to cite "being perceived as retrogressive" and "[no longer] finding himself so brilliantly fascinating" as his biggest fears within the space of the same interview.)
In the three years since their debut was released, Healy and the rest of The 1975 have mastered the composition of ecstatic, precise pop music. Of course, they’re also interested in writing atheistic D’Angelo-lite gospel epics, reverent takes on turn-of-the-decade chillwave, a smothering bit of shoegaze, and multiple lengthy ambient interludes. All of this is coming from a band that rose to prominence in their native UK on the back of a sharp, specific sound, one captured in singles like "Chocolate" and "Sex": lurid, histrionic guitar-pop.
Carly Rae Jepsen + M83 + Oasis
I like it when you sleep… defies categorization by design, but its core sits somewhere near the sentimental, dewy male pop music of the ‘80s. (I tried describing it to a coworker through comparison and ended up with "Carly Rae Jepsen crossed with M83, but fronted by one of the Gallagher brothers.") The lead single, "Love Me," cribs a rhythm and a subject from David Bowie’s "Fame" and spices it with the swagger of INXS; "UGH!" gets its sprightly density from Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout; "Paris" is a drug-addled update of The Police’s "Every Breath You Take." It’d be pastiche in lesser hands, but the writing is superb and the musicianship is immaculate. The best songs on the album threaten to drown you with hooks: "She’s American" piles radiant harmonies, spindly guitar lines, and a rogue saxophone onto bubbly funk, and "The Sound" is an irresistible bit of thumping house. (Credit Stardust for those churchy, stabbing synths.)
Your mileage may vary, and is also entirely dependent on your Healy tolerance. You have to give him credit for self-awareness: "It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me," he sings on "The Sound." "A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe." (You can imagine him wandering around London, making doe eyes at rhyming dictionaries and thesauruses in bookshop windows.) Like West, he has the ability to veer between pithy one-liners, penetrating self-examination, and pure idiocy at a moment’s notice. On the gentle "A Change of Heart," he asks, "I’ve been so worried ‘bout you lately / You look shit and you smell a bit"; one song later, he yelps, "If she says I’ve gotta fix my teeth, then she’s so American!"
Healy's trying to become the biggest rock star on the planet
When he dives into his own lack of faith on "If I Believe You" and "Nana," it’s heartrending. (A sample line from the latter: "I know that God doesn’t exist… but I like to think you hear me sometimes.") But for every touching remembrance, there’s a line bad enough to make you toss your headphones out of the nearest window. "I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual checks, and I’m trying to progress!" That’s cut from the putrid, half-rapped "Loving Someone," and every time I think about it I curse myself for liking the rest of the album so much.
Healy might strike out with half of these songs, but his gumption is still refreshing in a climate where the world’s biggest rock band was happy coughing up two-thirds of its Super Bowl halftime show to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. His substance abuse and self-importance — "I was about to say the world needs this album … Fuck it, you can go for that. The world needs this album," he told the NME — are borderline clichés, but his charisma and vision are palpable. When West called himself "the greatest living rock star on the planet" at Glastonbury last summer, it was hard to think of a musician working who could challenge the claim. Healy’s commitment to making it a tougher decision is what makes him so exciting.