The 1975: O2 Arena, London

Matt Healy lounge-lizards across the stage as his band charm the first of two sellout O2 crowds with sharp-edged, irresistible songs.

FOLLOWING UP a platinum-selling debut is no easy task, but the 1975’s approach to their difficult second album was spectacularly cavalier. At the start of 2016, they released the elaborately titled I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, an audacious record so stylised and wilfully eclectic that it was not unlike listening to a Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation from 1986.

It could have been an act of commercial suicide but proved to be anything but. Instead the album rocketed to No 1 both here and in the States, and catapulted the 1975 to a rarefied altitude where they’re able to launch this UK tour with two sold-out nights at the O2.

This success is all the more remarkable as the 1975’s musical default mode is a strain of intelligent yet scratchy, mildly funky electropop that can recall long-forgotten mid-’80s pop outliers: Johnny Hates Jazz. Red Box. Belouis Some. It’s an impression confirmed early in tonight’s set as force-of-nature singer Matt Healy lounge-lizards across stage in a tuxedo, a glass of red wine in hand, to sing Ugh!, about his former cocaine habit.

Yet the 1975 get away with these acts of aggressive magpie archaeology because they write great, sharp-edged pop songs with nagging, irresistible hooks. Combined with stellar lighting, it makes this a hugely classy state-of-the-art arena show that charms even as you play spot the influences. ‘Loving Someone’ has trace elements of Scritti Politti’s arch, sumptuous meta-pop; the thrumming synths and choked vocals of ‘Somebody Else’ could be Tears for Fears, were they fronted by a rag doll with a messiah complex.

The (very) occasional lulls have you idly wondering if they’re just Haircut 100 with A-levels, but then Healy launches into an erudite lament about Brexit, Trump and “people who are disenfranchised by political systems” before beseeching his fans to turn off their phones, just for one song, and live in the moment. Longing to be loved, he clearly believes, avidly and devoutly: he’s just not sure what in.

© Ian GittinsThe Guardian, 16 December 2016

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