The Nintendo 64 was the first video game system that really and truly impressed me. The flat graphics of the 16-bit generation were, from my adolescent viewpoint, limited but the N64 presented games in three dimensions, changing what video games could be and allowing for a previously inconceivable level of immersion. And while the Sony PlayStation had beaten it to market, it was the N64 that truly ushered in the era of 3D gaming, led first by the highly acclaimed Super Mario 64 and thereafter by what is arguably the greatest video game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That groundbreaking 1998 release revolutionized gaming at such a fundamental level that nearly every game since has been, in one way or another, indebted to it. Aside from being great fun, Ocarina of Time was revolutionary.
It’s important to reiterate that Ocarina of Time wasn’t the first 3D game. The aforementioned Super Mario 64 predates it by more than a year and there’s a case to be made that Wolfenstein 3D, released all the way back in 1992, was the first major attempt at 3D gaming—even if its name oversells the game’s merits on that front. Games have come a long way since those first forays into the third dimension and recent releases like Red Dead Redemption 2 represent massive improvements over Ocarina of Time in every material respect. And yet the legacy of RDR2 will likely never eclipse that of Ocarina of Time because a big part of what made Ocarina of Time so special was how it realized the possibility of nascent technology and created a game that transcended what had previously been possible in the medium. Released in 2018, with no generational technological shift at hand, RDR2 simply doesn’t have the opportunity to do that. In the ultimate codification of nostalgia, a part of the argument for Ocarina of Time‘s status as the G.O.A.T. is tied up in the timing of its release.
In light of that last paragraph, I’d like to suggest that Ocarina of Time has a parallel in contemporary popular music: Radiohead’s OK Computer, fittingly released at the dawn of the N64 era in 1997. Like Ocarina of Time, OK Computer did not single-handedly create a new age but it did combine a broad melange of influences into something revolutionary that has come to not only define an era, but to impact much of what has come in its wake. OK Computer, like Ocarina of Time, arrived at a crucial time. The genre-bending album was released as the analog era was making way for the digital age and it would not be a stretch to designate it as the beginning of the modern era of digital recording.
Which brings us to The 1975 and their third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Before last week’s release of A Brief Inquiry, frontman Matty Healy made it clear that The 1975 had OK Computer on their mind, stating that “important” records like OK Computer are “what we need to do.” Then NME went ahead and labeled A Brief Inquiry “the millennial answer to OK Computer” in their review, a quote that every review since has been obligated to refute. Because of course A Brief Inquiry isn’t the millennial OK Computer. Even if you wanted to make the argument that both albums were sonic equals—and I wouldn’t make that argument, but you do you—there was no chance that A Brief Inquiry could become what OK Computer was because, just like with Ocarina of Time, when a piece of art completely changes the landscape of a medium, there can only be one of its kind.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is an enjoyable album in its own right and it boasts a handful of standout tracks: “Be My Mistake” is a slow burning instant-classic, “Mine” is a fascinating burst of jazzy experimentation, “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” is damned catchy and lead single “Love It If We Made It” has as much modern bombast as a single that mirrors Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” possibly could. (I cast no negative judgment in that last assessment; I’m one of the six humans on earth who openly enjoys “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”) The 1975 have released an album that is very much of the moment, but not all moments are equal and this one, like A Brief Inquiry, doesn’t seem to be revolutionary.