As well as having a mouthful of a title, the 1975's sophomore album, 2016's I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, is the kind of ambitious, self-indulgent album that either marks a grand misstep by a fledgling band, or the start of something big. Produced by Mike Crossey, I Like It When You Sleep finds the 1975 picking up on many of the stylistic threads running through their Crossey-helmed, self-titled 2013 debut: synthy new wave, kinetic dance-rock, and atmospheric balladry. The difference this time around is Crossey, and the band's pristine studio execution, marked by a distinctive '80s adult contemporary aesthetic. While bands like MGMT and Vampire Weekend have long mined the VH-1 vaults for stylistic inspiration, there's nothing mannered about the 1975's retro-leanings. Despite their name and their ear for '80s synthesizers, the British outfit sound much more flamboyant than their contemporaries. This is primarily due to the contributions of lead singer Matthew Healy, whose overly wordy lyrics and weird, playfully dark persona -- sort of like a sexual Fraggle -- can sometimes put listeners off the pop scent. As he sings on "The Sound," "It's not about reciprocation, it's just all about me/A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic, junkie wannabe."
In that sense, the 1975 are more in line with the swagger of artists like INXS, U2, or even Madonna for that matter, whose early hits clearly had an impact on the group's approach here. Cuts like "UGH!," and the cheeky, plastic funk single "Love Me," sound delightfully like something Madonna might have made in collaboration with Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and art-pop duo Yello. Similarly, "The Sound" and the sparkling anthem "She's American," feature brightly infectious hooks that wouldn't be out of place on a Prince album. In fact, there's a palpable R&B inclination running through much of I Like It When You Sleep. It's a vibe that reaches an apex on the yearning, mid-album slow-jam, "If I Believe You," which also happens to feature a gorgeously rendered flügelhorn solo from jazz star and longtime D'Angelo collaborator Roy Hargrove.
Elsewhere, in keeping with the overall '80s adult contemporary sound, tracks like the shimmeringly moody "Somebody Else" and the sweetly romantic "Paris," bring to mind Tango in the Night-era Fleetwood Mac. Admittedly, at 17 tracks, I Like It When You Sleep is long. And given the poetic, atmospheric nature of many of the songs, it's somewhat unwieldy in one sitting. Ultimately, however, it's that uncompromising mix of POP (in capitalize letters) and inventive, exploratory musicianship that help make it such a rewarding listen. As the title implies, it may take the 1975 a while to get to the point on I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, but when they do, the results are revelatory.