The Collegian
Monday, November 28, 2022

The Undercover Brilliance of The 1975’s Being Funny in a Foreign Language

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian. 

There is no feeling quite like refreshing your Spotify application at midnight to find a new release — especially when it’s something as long-awaited as The 1975’s “Being Funny in a Foreign Language.” The band has teased the album for some time, referring to it as being “The 1975 at their very best.” The expectations were high, and so were the stakes. Following “Notes on a Conditional Form,” what some reviewers would venture to call their worst release to date, the pressure was on to perform.

“Being Funny” pays homage to the band’s classic style, featuring a mix between groovy, bass-heavy tracks and slower rock ballads akin to the tragically beloved songs off of their debut album. 

While this record takes a step back from the experimentalism present in “Notes,” that doesn’t require that every track follows the band’s classic formula. The opening track, “The 1975,” ruptures our expectations entirely, implementing a split-piano track and orchestral underscoring which feels akin to LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.” Frontman Matty Healy’s deep, echoing vocals accompany minimalistic lyrics setting the scene for the rest of the album. With these words, we truly do see the band at their best, combining upbeat tracks with heavily pessimistic lyrics about living in the current age. Healy apologizes to the listeners with a negativity that will foreshadow the conclusion of the record: “I’m sorry if you’re living and you’re seventeen.”

The placement of the second track, “Happiness,” is blissfully ironic. This track steps away from the introspective lyrics of past records and places the emphasis on finding positivity in the present. Its funky bassline and ethereal use of horns perfectly encapsulate euphoria, proving itself to be an essential dance track off of the album. Despite the feelings of content that underscore the instrumentation of the song, in the style characteristic of Healy, the lyrics cast aspersions on the extent to which the happiness in question can last. The struggle between positive sounds and doubt-filled motifs is a theme consistent throughout the album as well as the band’s discography as a whole. That is to say, this is typical of the group.

In the same vein as “Happiness,” but perhaps with more overtly cloudy lyrics, are tracks like “Looking For Somebody (To Love),” “Oh Caroline” and “I’m In Love With You.” Healy’s utter disbelief of any cheerfulness in his life casts a shadow of doubt over the seemingly positive nature of such tracks. With upbeat sounds and catchy hooks, these tracks are simply irresistible. Yet, there is still something deeper behind the apparent cliche lyrics of these tracks — the introspective nature of the band is not too far gone.

On the softer side of the album, with tracks like “Wintering,” “Human Too” and “When We Are Together,” the band takes a bit more creative freedom. Seemingly a track about returning home for the holidays, “Wintering” takes a guitar-centric approach, stripping down to the folk sound  that the band teased in prior releases, such as “Roadkill.” “Human Too” creates an entirely different soundscape, stripping down to a bare-bones piano and drum combination, accompanied by Healy’s vibrating falsetto pleading for listeners to understand his words. The closing track, “When We Are Together,” holds a special place among these three tracks, outlining Healy’s previous affairs with excruciatingly intimate details about each experience. Reminiscent of their previous works, this song harkens back to the band’s typical brooding lyrics, while also explaining the contentment hinted throughout the album as only existing in a given social context. As the title suggests, Healy only feels that he “might get better” when he is with his partner. This slow, folk-centric track is a perfect conclusion to the album, encompassing the conflicting motifs throughout the record in a succinct way.

Perhaps the greatest star of the record is the emotional rock ballad “About You.” Described by the band as a continuation of their adored song “Robbers,” this song matches the intensity in both lyrics and instrumentation of the band’s debut album. The sound is all-encompassing: the general ambience accompanied by Healy’s deep, gloomy vocals yields a highly emotional track. In a complete listen to the album, this track stands out as an immediate favorite.

Amid the minimalism and surface-level lyrics of The 1975’s tracks resides a sense of sincerity, struggling to escape from beneath the cliche tropes adopted by the band. For every superficially positive track on “Being Funny,” there is an accompanying darker motif that lies behind. Upon first listen, this record made me want to dance, to let go of my worries and to be one with the moment. Those feelings are still there while writing this review. However, I have an even deeper appreciation for the emotionality and doubt that underlies this album. It’s typical of the band, sure, but after all, this is The 1975 at their very best.

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