The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It is designed as a takeover, as the album’s launch was accompanied by a live streaming Beats 1 concert, a first for Apple, and by twin pop-up shops in New York and London. But the band’s sophomore effort still needed to deliver on their potential, and perhaps rationalize the increasingly erratic showmanship of lead singer Matthew Healy. And it does: At 74 minutes and 17 tracks, I Like It When You Sleep is a sprawling, compelling ode to the entire pop canon of the 1980s, with enough ingenuity and sheer bravado that its best moments sound like a rewriting of the decade, not simply a revival of it.
Healy has spent the last month picking fights with indie acts on Twitter, naysaying Sting and Thom Yorke in the press, and slithering around the Saturday Night Live stage, his attitude toggling between egomania and insecurity with no discernible middle ground. So it’s surprising to discover that I Like It When You Sleep’s opening track, “The 1975,” is both contemplative and unassuming, and one of four unexpected ambient songs on the album.
The rest of the first third of I Like It When You Sleep features some of the album’s strongest and strangest tracks. They’re astonishingly busy, instruments moving at lightning speed to work dozens of hooks and countermelodies into otherwise-straightforward pop songs. The dumbed-down white-funk track “Love Me” mimics Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” to masterful effect, its background vocals coming out of the left and right channels like a chorus of adulation. “UGH!” is impossibly squirmy: Synth squeaks, spare handclaps, and finger-picked guitar build an earworm of a backing groove for Healy’s not-so-subtle narration of cocaine addiction (“Do you have a card?/My irregular heartbeat is starting to correct itself”). And while the intro riff and shimmering chorus of “She’s American” transport you instantly to a shopping mall, the verses—which trade a serpentine guitar line with overly dramatic lines about painkillers, guns, and other American appetites—are even catchier.
“If I Believe You” best lays out the blueprint, and perhaps the difficulty, of I Like It When You Sleep. On paper, it’s a gospel song, predictable chord changes and all, but run it through the band’s neon-lit time machine and it turns into a quivering, syncopated stunner, albeit one that unfolds chaotically—and finds Healy rhyming “lesbian kiss” with “evangelist.” The thick, steady drums and neo-soul keyboards at the base of the track are interrupted so confusingly—by backup singers, atmospheric whooshes of noise, and a flugelhorn solo—that it’s undone by its own excess. That is, until the beautiful final minute when Healy digs into a simple, repeated lyric over muted organs and dreamlike harp.
I Like It When You Sleep is often the victim of such frenzied arrangements and lavish ideas, but these errors of ambition are much more fascinating than if the 1975 played it cool and safe. They also turn the album’s quiet and introspective moments like the dripping piano of “Please Be Naked,” the blippy electronica of the title track, and the pulsating midnight balladry of “Somebody Else,” into rewarding moments of restraint.
Restraint, however, isn’t the point of this album or the band itself. Healy’s deepest, darkest desires—to be a legitimate rock god, his band as big as One Direction—leads the 1975 into deliriously versatile territory; it’s why the M83-does-MBV reverb rock of “Lostmyhead” and the ultraclean early Prince sendup “The Sound” coexist on the same album. What these songs share, the pairing of Healy’s witty, bratty lyricism with athletic and adventurous musicianship, prove that this band is comfortable moving in all directions at once.