It’s difficult to summarize a project as densely-packed and ambitious as The 1975’s new record A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships and give it its due, but one way of getting at it is that it grapples with the alienation and heartbreak of an era where every relationship is mediated by the internet in the form of rock music that sounds like a mishmash of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver and Radiohead’s OK Computer, targeted at the same sad people. It is Very Good.
The day before the album’s release last Friday, the band released a music video of “102,” a stripped-down acoustic requiem for a friend whom Healy once loved, but who did not reciprocate his feelings. The song itself has been around since 2013 in video form, where a younger Healy drinks beer and performs the song in a park, birds chirping in the background. Listening to both versions, you get a clearer sense of how Healy’s vision of The 1975 has come into focus, still insisting on the same candor, but also how the band has moved far from post-emo dolefulness to something more reflective in their delivery.
The 2013 version comes from a well of pain, but when compared to the saccharine synth rock and self-conscious delinquency of their early days, “102” seems to presage their evolution as a band. The song stands out as a mature, uncompromising exploration of relationships happening at a remove. There’s no entreaty, no bitterness, no complaint about his friend’s attentions being usurped by this other boy, just a plaintive memory of his pain and contentment from looking at this girl. “Well, we’re here,” he sings. “We’re at the common again.” He points out the little things he remembers liking about this girl, from her shoes to her “optimistic grin.” He confesses, “But on this shirt I found your smell / I just sat there for ages contemplating what to do with myself.” Having finished singing, he takes a swig of beer.
Healy’s performance in the 2018 version is much more restrained, but you can see him singing to his younger self: “When we all grow old / I hope this song will remind you that I'm / not half as bad as what you've been told.” Displays of vulnerability and heartbreak can seem manufactured in an increasingly cynical world, but returning to this moment — sitting on a park bench and drinking beer and being miserable over an unrequited love — feels like something worth ruminating on, as well as a moment of recognition for the fan who’s stuck with the band from their beginnings. It’s a far cry from full-on happiness, but acknowledging the unrelenting passage of time ends up a more cathartic experience than you’d expect.
I played 102 in that session. I might put it on ‘Notes’— matty (@Truman_Black) 19 October 2018
“102” is only included in the Japanese version of A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships for now, but Healy has indicated that The 1975 might put the song on their next album, Notes on a Conditional Form, which is expected in late spring of 2019. Since the “102” video is marked as the “acoustic” version, it stands to reason that there might be a demo featuring synthesizers and Lord knows what else out there. It’ll be interesting to see how the band might experiment with the song further now their sound has matured, along with their members. Die-hard fans may be disappointed about how “102” is no longer a hidden gem of The 1975 fandom, but growing up is an accretion of loss.