‘Brutalism’, IDLES’ debut album was the stealth hit of 2017, the five piece crafted an abrasive record that hit hard sonically and thematically, touching on mental health and societal matters, all with a sprinkling of caustic lyrics and a touch of snarky humour. The momentum behind ‘Brutalism’ has helped propel IDLES into the public consciousness, winning over hearts and minds with their honest wordplay and acerbic punk melee. If the Bristol transplant’s first record grabbed you by the lapels and demanded you to pay attention, the quintet’s quick-fire follow up album ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ is more of a firm arm around the shoulders; it’s an LP that’s forged on inclusivity, embracing imperfections and flaws whilst confronting contentious subjects like immigration and looking to dismantle macho stereotypes.
Joy, as you might have guessed, is a key ingredient to ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’, there are moments of genuine elation; lead single ‘Danny Nedelko’, is a celebratory tale about how immigration is something to be embraced and not feared. Vocalist Joe Talbot jubilantly growls a message of social-harmony “he’s made of bones/he’s made of blood/he’s made of flesh/he’s made of love/he’s made of you/he’s made of me/UNITY!” prior to a soaring chorus that helps dissolve all the scaremongering that pollutes the general view of immigration. ‘Great’ is (probably) the first (of many) songs about Brexit but whilst Talbot recounts nameless Brits that “want their country back” the frontman calls of solidarity with the simple parting coda of “we’re all in this together”. Genuinely, the searing punk maelstrom that frames Talbot’s shards of positivity, bristles with the same uplifting buzz. ‘Television’s rubbery basslines and ricocheting drum-licks has Talbot take aim at vacuous, plastic culture, appealing for you to “love yourself” and not to be consumed by the images of faux-perfection shoved down our throats by the likes of trashy celebrity magazines and gutless social media. For a record that encourages the listener to challenge their own vulnerabilities, ‘Cry To Me’ is the reassuring, out stretched hand of comfort; through a whirring buzz of static the band’s lynchpin offers a shoulder to cry on and a pair of ears to listen to your woes. The most disarming document of IDLES practising what they preach is the heart-breaking tribute to Talbot’s daughter, Agatha that was delivered stillborn last year. Over an unnerving hum, Talbot’s formidable punk bark is softened as he delicately chimes, “baby shoes/for sale/never
worn” it’s this kind of raw sentiment that makes the record such an emotional and inclusive experience. For a group that make confrontational music, it’s a wonderful side-step that IDLES want to destroy the myth of machismo; the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide and it’s this stark notion that the group meet head on via ‘Samaritans’. The track takes all the knuckle dragging male slogans all us men have had hurled at us and scrunches them back up and chucks them back in the face of dumb male bravado. Through a volley of rampant drums and deformed guitar fuzz you’re greeted with Talbot’s bark of “man up/sit down/chin up/pipe-down/socks up/don’t cry/drink up/just lie/grow some balls he said/grow some balls”. Opening track ‘Colossus’ an epic, part drone-rock, part Stooges-esque punk assault deals with the legacy of manhood in a different guise “they laugh at me when I run/I waste away for fun/I am my father’s son/his shadow weighs a ton”. While the staccato blasts of ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ looks to confront faux-masculinity by calling it out to its face. Arguably the year’s best song title also contains one of 2018’s best lyrics “you’re not a man/you’re a gland/you’re one big neck with sausage hands”.
A call to arms, a cry of solidarity, call it what you want but 2018 needs ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ and IDLES more than you’ll ever know. In a time of division, animosity and unrest, the best thing we can do is come together, embrace our differences and expose our vulnerabilities. As the old saying goes “united we stand, divided we fall”.
Joy as an Act of Resistance by Idles comes out on August 31st via Partisan Records.
Words and thoughts of Adam Williams