Being Funny In A Foreign Language

The 1975

Dirty Hit, 2022

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The 1975 have spent their first four albums evolving and expanding their sound, trying new things, jam-packing their albums with way too many songs, refusing to be pigeonholed into a single genre or influence. As such, the concise length and relative clear-headedness of Being Funny in a Foreign Language comes as a nice surprise, hearkening back to the band’s first album in sound and scope.

As usual, “The 1975” opens the album, this time reworked into a Coldplay-esque sonic sculpture and lyrics about looking back to your late teens and 20s, when one’s words are often quicker than one’s thoughts. “Happiness” and “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” then revert back to the band’s stock in trade, 80s-esque adult contemporary pop with modern production techniques (and a touch of saxophone!). But the lyrics remain worth scrutinizing, especially on the latter song: “Maybe we’re lacking in desire / Maybe it’s all just fucked / But the boy with the plan and the gun in his hand / Was looking for somebody to love.” 

Rather than go obtuse this time, Matthew Healy has apparently been spending time in Facebook comments sections, as the lyrics repeatedly reference current buzzwords like “cringe,” “gaslighting,” “cuck,” “woke,” “cancelled,” “Qanon” and “soy,” though the danger of this is in whether the lyrics will hold up to scrutiny in 10 years when those terms cease to mean much. But it’s hard to beat the wry observations Healy makes about both his past (name-dropping both masturbation and Richard Verlaine of the band Television) and the present in “Part of the Band:” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“I know some vaccinista tote bag chic baristas / Sitting east on their communista keisters /
Writing about their ejaculations / ‘I like my men like I like my coffee /
Full of soy milk and so sweet, it won't offend anybody’ / Whilst staining the pages of the nation.”

Apparently, this guy has been reading Breitbart comments sections or something. Anyway, “Oh Caroline” is a pleasant pop song, the kind that could have played well in 1983, 2003 or in 2022; it’s not far fetched to imagine either The Weeknd or Paul Carrack (or Paul Young? I can never remember) singing it. “I’m In Love With You” and “About You” are solid, in the same vein as the rest, the latter featuring an especially airy vocal that doesn’t do much with the lyrics as much as try to set a dreamy mood with sax and female backing vocals.

There’s really nothing experimental or unusual this time around, nor are there any outright clunkers, though “Wintering,” “Human Too” and “All I Need to Hear” are fairly dull, although the falsetto on “Human Too” is worth noting. The closer “When We Are Together” is a melancholy breakup song but with a hopeful melody; referencing specific details (kissing in the Walmart toy section, socks with sandals, scented candles) and the dynamics that broke them apart (“I’m better at writing was just a way to get you biting / Oh the truth is that our egos are absurd … I thought we were fighting, but it seems I was gaslighting you / I didn’t know that it had its own word”). There’s speculation that the song is about Healy’s breakup with Tahlia Barnett (better known as FKA twigs)—due to the line “It was poorly handled, the day we both got canceled / Because I’m a racist and you’re some kind of slag”but Healy said in a recent interview it was more about all relationships and the dynamics therein.

So what’s left is the 1975’s shortest, most direct and most focused album, singing about love and meaning in the current society, with sincerity (instead of irony) that evokes what many of us are thinking and feeling, even if we can’t put it into words. It’s also the least affected musically, focusing on real instruments (apparently, a rule for the recording studio this time around) and real emotions. This could well be the best album the band will ever make. But again, it’s the 1975, so the next album could be a gangster rap-heavy metal hybrid, and nobody would bat an eye. It’s all part of what makes this band worthy of your attention.

Rating: B

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