ALBUM REVIEW: IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance

Where, I hear you cry (or not!), is the next Great British hero coming from?! You know…that band or artist that tells it like it is! We have some amped and guitar-wielding acts but few are talking about British life, deep subjects and projecting something startling and conversation-starting onto the page. Given the fact this country keeps pulling red-nosed clowns out of its preposterously wide car suggests there is ample fruit for artists to pick and eat. Now that professor (intended for irony!) Boris Johnson has compared women in burkas to letterboxes (he is a Grade-A Fu*kwit!), it seems like the reliable buffoon is plunging the Tories into greater turmoil. There is the ongoing argument in the Labour Party regarding antisemitism; the NHS is being dragged into the red and beardy (Richard) Branson is swooping up contracts like a money-grabbing fat-cat rummaging around the bins late at the night. Toss into the blender the growing mental-health crisis, the ball-gripping addiction of social media and the world, you know, melting and nearing crisis – we needed a caped crusader who can make sense of all us this and throw some musical grenades at the impotent and retarded political classes.

Roll up the megalithic, intellectual and always-sexy IDLES who, before Joy as an Act of Resistance has hit the (digital and physical) shelves, has impressed with a range of eclectic and memorable singles. They are the band the nation needs right now! Many argued against their exclusion from this year’s Mercury Music Prize shortlist – it would be rude to note their debut, Brutalism, arrived over sixteen months back, so you can do the maths regarding this year’s list… – but Shame, a post-punk band with a SPAR bag-full of lager, vomit and Durex, were denied entry into the Nation’s Most Tepid Award Ceremony. I am painting IDLES as a loutish and working-class-zeroes-like band when, in actuality, they possess far more wit, brains and balls than 99.9% of the artists out there. I have been listening to Joe Talbot (the band’s lead anchor) and his experiences with mental illness and the death of his mother. The boy has experienced a lot of turmoil and pain but speaks so potently and inspirationally about his loss and how we should be tackling quagmires/big debates out there – truly, someone who should be in the Government and making sense of the raging ball-bags in the Cabinet!

In any case, and my obvious political allegiances aside, I am excited to digest Joy as an Act of Resistance and all myriad charms. ‘Colossus’ is the snarling, creeping beast that beckons awakening and action. Our hero, and a weekend that lasted “twenty years”, has sinned and drained his body – stuck them full of pins and danced until dawn with splintered shins. Aside from a tricky consult with the local G.P., the song beautifully subverts what we’d expect: the band racing out the gates and launching into a tirade. The opening number, instead, possesses tease and subtlety – you can hear a drumstick tapping metal like someone in an industrial warehouse killing time – and Talbot’s vocal is neither restrained nor intense. It tells the story wonderfully and gets the listener imagining and involved. The percussion eventually ramps up to the heavens and it gets proper-sick. Our hero is his father’s son – his shadow weights a tonne, we are told – as the band take off the masks and drool blood from the tongue. More and more damaging and disturbing visions come through in a song that gets puts you in a strange trance. Talbot, as a singer, employs more nuance, variety and emotions than we saw on Brutalism – an excellent opening to an album that, already, promises much! ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’ is canny advice – although I’d travel back to the day Justin Timberlake arrived in music and give his testicular region a right-good kicking! – but, also, it is another charged and tense song. The percussion gallops, guitars kick and swagger as our hero – with his part-talked, part-sung style – rips off his T-shirt and strides the street. Far-off vocals, grumbling bass and Punk-turned-to-eleven thrash get you pumping the fists whilst having a tattoo of a middle finger etched onto your face. Michael Keaton and a “plastic Sinatra” are among the exhibits and visions Talbot brings into the song – the band are known for their incredible wordplay, wit and cheekiness.

‘I’m Scum’ completes the opening quarter and is one of the album’s most empathic cuts. Reminding me of self-titled-era The Clash (1977); one can hear shades of Strummer and the lads in IDLES – there is that same mix of rebellion, profanity and speaking-for-the-trodden-generation anthems. Our man casts himself as council estate scum and is in a minimum-wage job…he is another retched cast-off and pigeon of society (one feels there is a shot at the Government and how the working-classes are overlooked). Ear-catching wordplay – over-tipping the waiter and not giving a sh*t about the next James Bond – abound, it is a slam against the murderous toffs, the disappearing high-street and the gentrification of the land…ruled by those unfit to supervise a cocktail tasting at a retirement home! Joy as an Act of Resistance (among many reasons) finds its strength and victories in short and concise songs. There are few aimless solos and wasted words. This is a tight and rehearsed set of songs from a band that has picked up a lot of new skills from the road. Not to suggest a degree of finesse has compromised their sound, leadership and primal urges: it has heightened their senses and upped their skill set. ‘Danny Nedelko’ has been played a lot on BBC Radio 6 Music and the cooler end of the digital dial. It is another great character study and, again, it is hard to shrug off the ghost of Joe Strummer. The IDLES boys never replicate nor mimic: you have authenticity and unique instincts from a band who, on every cut, get closer to creating revelation, epiphany and common truth. The song is one of the album’s biggest cannons and a perfect representation of IDLES’ current mindset.

‘Love Song’ and ‘June’ are two interesting tracks that dare you to eat a mega-hot curry and laugh when you are (unwisely) downing water. ‘Love Song’s title is a bit misleading. It is the sort of love song Romeo would pen if he were high on crystal meth and undergoing psychiatric counsel. IDLES’ engorged hero is living a modern low and, backed by wordless chant and a wonderful composition – plenty of twanging bass and melodic flourishes – has the time of his fu*king life. Our man is not going to change and is your leave-a-card-until-the-last-minute type of cad. A bounder that creates emotional distance and will cause your mum to spit her tea all over your crotch; maybe one hastily judges the man. I see the song as a mandate aimed at the Government and what a spiralling and tormented nation we are living in. ‘June’ is the first departure from the core/expected IDLES sound. Almost regal and romantic – sounds like there is a Mellotron or harpsichord working in the back! – it is a slower, swooning call that offers some (brief) calm and reflection. The song is more immersive in terms of its evolving composition rather than the lyrics. Guitars multiply and slam; whistles are heard and it is like a drum-march into the bowels of Hell. Another song, like ‘Colossus’, that walks the line between uneasiness and near-explosion. At the album’s midway point, it is the perfect place to place ‘June’ (like the month in the year; IDLES’ overcast and stormy summer!). ‘Samaritans’ is one of the album’s most essential tracks. A commentary on the perceived notion of ‘manhood’ – how we need to ball-up and disguise our pains – one feels a real connection between Joe Talbot’s personal loss and how, as a man, he is expected to mask his feelings. Taking to task toxic masculinity and its age-old cliché; one of the album’s most emotional and shocking lines comes in the chorus: “This is why you never see your father cry”. It is as urgent and heartbreaking song that acts more as education and reformation than mere music. Not only are the lyrics profound, true and enraged; the band beautifully temper their emotions and deliver a song that manages to have a clear and clever head but slaps any twat that feels a man is someone who shuts off and ‘grows balls’ (our hero is a real boy and cries, you know!).

‘Television’ and ‘Great’ are excellent cuts that show the band are in no short supply of quotable lines and witty barbs. The former has a big and chant-able chorus; a fantastic and flowing song that shows IDLES at their most brotherly, connected and tight. A kinetic performance with so many hidden elements and notes – it is one for fans and the academic to pick apart and savour. ‘Great’ is another belly-rumbler and clarion-call that highlights Britishness and the state of our country. People want ‘their’ nation back; they cry at the cost of a bacon bap; people in cul-de-sacs want big-screen T.V.s. You can hear a genuine sense of bafflement and irk when our hero delivers his words. Joy as an Act of Resistance is as much a viewpoint on changing Britain under the Tories as it is anything else. We are, as said, changing passports and closing places down. It is a narrative of modern Britain that, if you listen carefully, will whittle its way through the album pack and sit in your top-three faves. ‘Gram Rock’ is a great track but, if anything, struggles to match the best offerings from the album. The band is in electric form but the overall effect is not as immediate as other songs through the record. It takes a few listens to get behind ‘Gram Rock’ but, once you do, it starts to make more sense. Maybe it is the fatigue/energy of listening to the album in one sitting – come back afterwards and reserve a space for this song and it gains new light!

The album’s final two songs, ‘Cry to Me’ and ‘Rottweiler’, act as the final scenes to the great action/coming-of-age film. We have seen the explosions and fights; the sex and drugs; we have witnessed the protagonist go through growth and learn a lesson. ‘Cry to Me’ is a drive home and wind-down that lodges in the brain. Talbot takes his voice in new directions. The song is an instant hit and an offering I can imagine going down a storm when played live! It is a big and immersive song that will ring in the brain for weeks. Likewise, ‘Rottweiler’ ends the album with enough bite and drool to satisfy a Satanist on a gluten-free diet. It is a horny, bottom-smacking tribal dance that snaps and retreats; it has quieter moments and then twirls back into the spotlight with a devious smirk. The instrumentation is uniformly exceptionally: the percussion changes course like a leering viper; the bass guides the song and adds immense weight; the guitars light a fuse and blow the bloody doors off. There is not a lot of Talbot but that is a good thing – it gives a chance for his comrades to voice their opinions and gives the album a more musical and sonic finish. The final moments of ‘Rottweiler’ are insane and captivating. They are, in fact, some of the best notes IDLES have committed to music. A perfect way to end a remarkable album (“Keeping, fucki*g, going!” as the hero urges) and proof IDLES are among the most inventive, flexible and surprising bands around.

For those bemoaning the lack of worthy IDLES on the Mercury list – Brutalism got screwed last year and not this! – do not worry. I am pretty damned sure Joy as an Act of Resistance will be a shoe-in for nomination this time next year! In fact, I will kiss Piers Morgan on the cheek if it is denied (is a review a written contract?!)! Joy as an Act of Resistance does something very few modern albums can achieve: it is an album where you are compelled to listen to every track and not skip songs; you also will come back time and time again in order to listen to the material. An instant, enduring and ever-remarkable album from a band who, on album-two, are hitting staggering heights. Brutalism was a fine and emphatic debut but Joy as an Act of Resistance is the perfect girlfriend to the glorious, if brief, fling – a record that nourishes the brain, body and soul and keeps you lifted when you need a boost. That is, perhaps, the biggest change from the debut to now. Songs like ‘Samaritans’ bring in heavy emotion and deal with meaty topics with mindfulness and honesty; political stress and discontent are more evident and explosive (sadly, plenty of inspiration between February of last year and now for rile and agression!). Anyone expecting the IDLES boys to jump on American muscle cars and break out their rendition of ‘Greased Lightnin’ (ace song, mind!) will be disappointed. This is a tattooed, testicular and tense album that steps up to the plate and does some serious talking! It is a manifesto that delivers on its promises and speaks more truth than every politician in the Government has this year. It is a tear-jerking and tender when it needs to be; funny and laddish when the song calls; simply brilliant and mesmeric the rest of the time. Adam Devonshire, Mark Bowen; Lee Kiernan and Jon Beavis have developed and grown as musicians since their debut. They are more ambitious and intuitive; broader and more accomplished players and songwriters. Joe Talbot is their lead who, unlike many bands, has a massive brain, fantastic personality and incredible voice. He is a proper modern icon who is among the most inspirational figures in today’s scene. He helms the IDLES craft with muscle and exceptional skill. Joy as an Act of Resistance is the album the nation needs right now; IDLES are the band the nation needs right now – what more do you need?!

Joy as an Act of Resistance is available from 31st August, 2018 through Partisan Records. Pre-order the album here.