By: Stuart Tidy
27 August, 2018, 10:00
New record Joy As An Act Of Resistance has the difficult task of following the alarmingly powerful milestone that Brutalism was. IDLES have changed along the way and this current music shows a distinct evolution but it can safely be said that success has not propelled them into pretentiousness; they are the same artsy punk monsters that they were four years ago.
There is an unfortunate trend with second albums to dip into self referencing narcissism and have your sound smothered by the newly associated record companies army of producers. In contrast, this is a refreshingly brash, joyful and self aware effort. The lyrics and themes take more of a centre stage than with Brutalism and with most of the tracks there is usually a line that hits you like a sudden jab unseen in your peripheral vision. Partly this is down to the bands “attempt to be vulnerable with our audience” but also its singer, Joe Talbot’s ability to succinctly condense an idea with beautifully aggressive wit into one sentence and slip beneath your cynical radar.
The perfect storm of instruments is similar to the last album with the bass driving violently forward and guitars jousting against it with equal ferocity. Overlaying this is the carefully steered growl of the lead vocal. The songwriting couldn’t be more different from a McCartney-like careful craftsmen who sates your expectations and occasionally surprises you. This is more of an artistic projection which grabs you by the hair and shouts in your ear. The songs are more focused on specific messages; some more noticeably than others but there is also an increased confidence in their abilities which makes for a far more lean bullet-like delivery which, for the most part, works incredibly well. Each song sits within the album comfortably but with much more individual character than previous releases.
Opening with ‘Colossus’ it, in many ways picks up nicely from ‘Slow Savage’ which closed Brutalism. It slowly staggers into existence with wheezing organ-like chords and slow hammering drums ladling on a sinister tone. You’re immediately hit by the line “drained my body full of pins” which is the first of many stark and slightly genius lyric choices. It almost sounds like a slowed down version of one of McClusky’s vicious punk tunes while invoking a Hammer Horror mood which is very fitting considering its stately home shot video. The immense tension it creates is burst open by the outro which we could have possibly lived without as it diffuses the song a bit but despite that, it’s a truly mighty opener.
‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ is a rather frivolous feeling respite from the terrifying first song which lends itself to a bit of chanting. That, clattering in a dank back room, industrial sound the album uses firmly establishes itself here. The distorted torturing of a single note on the guitar is a little post rock leaning and invokes parts of Godspeed You! Black Emperor like ‘Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls’ as it howls away with Joe snarling “even your haircuts violent”.
‘I’m Scum’ feels like a part two to ‘Idles Chant’ off the MEAT EP with the jostling bassline and oi oi punk feel. It’s a bouncy song and the line “laughing up the tyrants” is a standout among numerous leftist comment put across shamelessly and with celebration.“This snowflake’s an avalanche” line presumably makes a reference to the alt-right insult and is a little too on the nose which pulls you out of the song a bit but for the most part it’s a delightfully fun and directly political ditty.
‘Danny Nedelko’ has really struck a chord since it was released as a single. In its verses it references personal examples of immigrants at one point naming Mo Farah and a Polish Butcher. It then takes a larger view in the pre-chorus saying “he’s made of love, he’s made of you, he’s made of me, unity!” which peaks and leads into the chorus with dizzying satisfaction. The chorus itself which warms against fear and hate may possibly have a plagiarism claim from Yoda but then I suppose he is the wisest Jedi in the universe. Overall it’s a very refreshing, catchy and positive take on something that seems to obsess the public psyche.
‘Love Song’ is an aggressively vulnerable tune summed up quite well with the line “you give me power, you’re like a gun or a knife be my wife”. It’s defiant bareness of soul, in it’s own contorted punk fashion, is beaming with beauty. Delivered more like a story than many other songs, it reminded me a little of earlier Dead Kennedy’s songs like ‘Trust your mechanic’.
‘June’ tackles the tragedy of Joe loosing his child last year during child birth head on and is appropriately placed in the centre of the album as what tethered the creative approach for the whole record. It’s a about being honest and emotionally bare, it’s about connecting with those around you and realising you can’t exist in isolation and it’s summed up lyrically and musically here best of all. There’s a slow, lamenting organ sound and the band almost take a step back with their contributions as the lyrics are slowly placed in view and left for reflection; the most striking and heartbreaking being “I swear I kissed your crying eyes, dreams can be so cruel sometimes”. The way the instruments carefully place their parts evokes the supportive role of others in a very clever and elegant way.
‘Samaritans’ has surprisingly landed IDLES on ITV discussing ‘toxic masculinity” with Nina Nannar. The track itself feels a bit like a mutated nursery rhyme when you first listen to the verses which are a string of instructions young boys are often given like “man up” and “grow some balls”. This gives a unique feel as a would be ‘Ring around the Roses’ is dragged into a punk song. The line about “the mask of masculinity” I feel overstates the message though, especially considering “this is why you’ll never see your father cry” sums up the theme so effectively.
‘Television’ is a song you could miss if you blink because it doesn’t scream its presence quite as much as all those before it. Sounding a bit like some of IDLES older music it takes aim at the preoccupation with our appearance and the imposition of advertising. It’s another very liberating and jaunty thrash about like ‘I’m Scum’.
‘Great’ like the preceding track doesn’t stand out particularly but is a well balanced and paced piece of songwriting. It’s the way the melodies ascend and resolve that caught my attention as there is something distinctly Brit-pop about them. A track like ‘Bully Boy’ by Shed Seven is not a million miles away; obviously minus the spiky edges and animalistic growls.
‘Gram Rock’ is the third of three lighter tunes and despite the title the playfully melodramatic drum intro sounds more like a Spandau Ballet single but then I suppose calling your song ‘New Romantic’ is a high risk strategy? It’s quite the musical explosion and serves as a good sardonic punk snack with lines like“I’m sorry you’re mothers dead,aaaah, loverly spread” the Notsensibles would approve.
‘Cry to Me’ has a grand and almost cinematic feel. The guitar slides about with a rockabilly string bending buzz. It’s not clear what it’s about but the general feel is reminiscent of ‘You’re gonna miss me’ by the 13th Floor elevators with it’s angsty and disoriented lurching forward. The slight country filament burning subtly in the centre is unusual for IDLES and the tune could easily be imagined popping up in the middle of a Hollywood film.
‘Rottweiller’ is more of a closing, wheels fling off, jam session than an actual succinct song. Joe shouts “keep going!! smash it, ruin it” as it tips past five minutes it gives a taste of what a live performance often feels like with this band in the closing moments. With all the albums bloody-mindedness, politics, anger and love collapsing into a tumbling of noises it’s perhaps a fitting way to end.
Joy As An Act Of Resistance is out on 31st August via Partisan Records.