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The 1975's homecoming cements their position as Britain's great pop eccentrics

15 March 2016, 09:55 | Written by Joe Goggins

"We're The 1975, and as you obviously already know, we're from Manchester."

Matt Healy's close enough; most of us at the Manchester Apollo tonight (13 March) do know that this is a band from round our way. For whatever reason, though - perhaps it’s their cushy beginnings in Wilmslow, a suburb almost exclusively the preserve of footballers and Coronation Street stars - this is a city that's never quite taken The 1975 to its collective heart. They haven't commanded the same kind of partisanship that working class heroes like Oasis and The Stone Roses did. Tonight, they open - irresistibly - with "Love Me", a glorious pastiche of INXS and 80s Bowie. It's a sharp evisceration of celebrity culture, but the central sentiment's likely never come over as heartfelt as it does on this four-night run at the historic Apollo. Beyond the sizeable Mancunian branch of the band's hefty cult fanbase, the town in general's never loved The 1975 like it normally, fiercely, does when local boys make good.

The primary reason for that, if we’re going to try to apportion blame, is that this city loves an underdog and have perhaps, wrongly, pegged The 1975 as something different, assuming that their major label deal and heavy support from Radio 1 (more or less from the outset) is something that’s extricated them from the alternative scene. There is possibly the assertion in the so-called ‘indie’ world that The 1975 don’t amount to a great deal more than an alternative boyband; after all, they command a considerable teenage fanbase and have no shortage of chart-friendly singles at their disposal. Such ideas fall egregiously wide of the mark, however; this is the finest pop group this country has turned out in a good long while, never mind Manchester. Their new album is called I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, and I’m absolutely delighted to report that it’s every bit as overblown, daft and - crucially - brilliantly eccentric as the title suggests.

It’s a complete oddball of a pop record and at the time of writing it sits atop both the British and American charts. How often does that happen? How often does something this ambitious, this unapologetic, sweep the boards commercially? Hardly ever, and what’s more, Healy and his childhood pals display admirable confidence in the new material tonight, happily incorporating a slew of hazy, almost soulful new electropop efforts - “A Change of Heart”, “Somebody Else” and the six-piece gospel choir-backed “If I Believe You” are all amongst them. They stack their eighties influences high and wear them almost aggressively on their sleeve, but when you hear, say, The Postal Service or Chromatics poking through on the likes of “Paris” or the sparse “Loving Someone”, you realise that they’re not ten-a-penny synthpop revivalists; they’re taking everything they love about the old and forcibly making sure it shakes hands with the new.

That there’s still room in the set for the pointed fizz of “She’s American” and the coke-fuelled R&B bop of “UGH!” says so much about how many bases this band are trying to cover. Present and correct, too, are the big hitters from their self-titled debut; another LP with scant regard for brevity, it did still carve out a more stable template than its follow-up, which is why its clutch of indie-rock-lite turns - “Robbers”, “Chocolate”, “Girls” - all adhere to that same summery-guitar, chirpy-vocal blueprint. They’re all short, sharp and solid slices of pop songwriting, though, and deservedly meet with a feverish response from a crowd that is far more demographically diverse than you might be tempted to assume.

But why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t this band appeal to everybody? They’ve an embarrassment of hooks and melodies that should endear them to the alternative crowd, and an unfailingly sharp ear for the electronic affectations that currently dominate the mainstream. And then, on top of that, there’s Healy, the consummate frontman, all Jaggeresque arrogance, the omnipresent glass of red in one hand and the crowd in the palm of the other. It is frankly bizarre that this ragtag pop outfit are so obviously bound for arenas before the year’s out, but here we are. The 1975 continue to stake their claim for the latest slot in a pantheon of great British pop weirdos, and sure enough, it’s the country - not just their hometown - that should be taking them to its collective heart. On current evidence, we’re getting there.

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