IDLES: Joy as an Act of Resistance (Partisan Records)
The Joy of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll!
If 2017’s Brutalism made those who are partial to thunderous rhythms and defiant choruses rejoice, then the new offering from the Bristol-based five-piece Idles, Joy as an Act of Resistance, will gladden their hearts. There is most assuredly to be no ‘difficult second album syndrome’ for these boys.
The band’s awesome drummer Jon Beavis ushers in the appositely titled “Colossus” with an eerie ‘click-clack’ percussive figure, upon which the rest of the band proceed to build. The tension is almost unbearable as powerhouse singer Joe Talbot solemnly intones in a voice dripping with dark intent ‘I am my father’s son/.his shadow weighs a ton,’ until this deceptively simple two-chord workout reaches its full, impressive height. It’s as dramatic and as mesmeric an opening song as you’ll hear this year.
And so to track two, the hilariously-titled “Never Fight a Man With a Perm”. A cautionary tale built upon a bedrock of thunderous rhythms and insistent guitars, whereby Talbot recounts being on the business end of a ‘good’ kicking by a coked-up ‘gym bunny’: ‘Brylcreem, creatine, on a bag of Charlie Sheen!’ His voice really is a thing of wonder, as he enthusiastically devours his own articulate lyrics and then spits them out venomously.
On “I’m Scum”, needle-like guitars collide over a seasick, Fall-like rhythmic rumble. Over this bedrock, Talbot paints a lurid picture of what it’s like to be directionless and penniless; universal themes which will resonate wherever you happen to reside on our ‘prison planet’. It’s the mark of a great lyricist who can make the everyday and mundane seem interesting: ‘I’ll sing at fascists ‘til my head comes off/ I am Dennis Skinner’s son/ I am a mongrel dog/ I’m just another cog’
As was the case with “Rachel Khoo” on Brutalism, the band show that they are not averse to adding a little ‘pop’ to their punk palette. The ‘commercial’ track in question is the single ‘Danny Nedelko’. Talbot also seems to have also mastered the art of making serious points by imbuing them with a little sly humor, and in doing so he avoids being judgmental or ‘preachy’ The subject in question is the often toxic issue of immigration, and of what it means to ‘be British’. With slightly oblique references to Polish butchers and Olympian athlete Mo Farah, you have to wonder though if some of these references might be incomprehensible to non-Brits?
So far so bloody good, but next track “Love Song” is unfortunately as musically perfunctory as its unimaginative title suggests. Thankfully ‘June’ soon wrests things back, and although the quality is upped once more, we are suddenly moored in a dark cul-de-sac, subject matter-wise. The harrowing narrative describes a stillborn birth, and the agonized vocal and the melancholic musical backdrop suddenly makes one feels like one is swimming in molasses. One lyric, in particular, will live long in the memory: ‘baby shoes for sale/never worn’
Next track “Samaritans” is very much ‘business as usual,’ (a compliment). It’s a nuanced attack (both musically and subject-wise) on ‘the mask of masculinity’, ie maleness. The song’s aggressive protagonist berates men who express their feelings openly: ‘drink up/don’t whine/grow some balls!’ However, the victim of the oafish and insensitive narrator’s ire eventually has the last laugh, with the Katy Perry-referencing declaration ‘I kissed a boy and I liked it!’
The next three songs are fairly unremarkable by Idles’ high standards. Apart that is from the self-reviewing single “Great,” which is a laudable attempt to make sense of the myriad and complex issues in post- Brexit Britain, and its predictable lurch to the right ‘Blighty wants his country back/.as he cries at the price of a bacon bap’
We’re on the home straight now with the ‘devil dog’-referencing “Rottweiler”, which is as powerful and relentless as its titular subject. It’s a terrific ram-a-la-ma punk workout, replete with crashing chords and stop-start dynamics until suddenly the whole thing falls apart and we’re left with Talbot screaming at the band: ‘Keep going! F*ck ‘em Smash it! Destroy the world!’ Brilliant.
Two albums in it’s become apparent what Idles are all about: driving rhythms, serrated guitars BIG choruses, and lyrical miracles; all topped off with Joe Talbot’s powerful and nuanced vocals. There isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking or innovative here, but Idles have learned how to recalibrate old tricks and present them in dynamic and musically articulate new ways – and for that alone, they should be (app)lauded. Roll on album number three.
Rahman the Writer
Official Website: www.idlesband.com