Album Review: IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance

By on Monday, 22nd October 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

We had a busy summer and missed reviewing IDLES‘ second album. Happily, we have new writer Gareth O’Malley stepping in and rectifying the situation. His words follow.

IDLES Joy as an Act of Resistance album cover>Bristol-based punks IDLES could have been forgiven for taking some time off after they finished touring ‘Brutalism’, their incendiary debut album, but the quintet had other ideas. Chief among them was heading right back into the studio and putting together its successor. That ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ came together as quickly as it did shouldn’t be surprising, given how the band have become known for throwing themselves into a tough tour schedule in recent years. They’ve made up for lost time – no more 3-year gaps between releases like what happened with their 2012 debut EP ‘Welcome’ and its 2015 follow-up ‘Meat’ – and have no plans to slow down any time soon.

That sense of urgency is also a key part of their sound: up-tempo, riff-heavy material matched in its intensity by firebrand frontman Joe Talbot’s emotional lyrical bent, delivered in a full-throated roar. There’s little room to breathe across this LP’s 12 tracks. Though the record is by turns both personal and political, it’s pretty full-on throughout. Even its softest song, ‘June’, is a heartbreaking eulogy for Talbot’s stillborn child, an unflinching look at an episode of personal devastation and grief. Among the many topics it tackles are mental health, xenophobia, violence, classism and above all, self-acceptance. “If someone talked to you the way you do to you / I’d put their teeth through / Love yourself!” Talbot yells encouragingly on ‘Television’, a song that shouts down unrealistic beauty standards and the effect they can have on self-esteem.

That track pairs well with the ferocious ‘Samaritans’, whose own message of self-love is delivered as a call for men to cast aside the mask of masculinity worn by previous generations (“This is why you never see your father cry”) and express their emotions instead of bottling everything up. Driven by a powerhouse performance from drummer Jon Beavis, it’s a rallying cry for a society – and the music industry – blighted by a rise in male suicides. Fighting to end the stigma around mental health issues, the band also contribute their take on American preacher and soul singer Solomon Burke’s ‘Cry to Me’ as the record’s penultimate track. The justice they do to it, you’d think it’s an IDLES original unless told otherwise. It allows the listener some downtime before the band bring the album to a clattering halt with the anarchic ‘Rottweiler’, a growler of a track that predates even ‘Brutalism’ but makes an ideal closing track.

They certainly know how to bookend their albums; in terms of sheer energy, ‘Rottweiler’ is matched, perhaps even bettered by the two-part cinematic opener and obvious live favourite ‘Colossus’, which builds steadily over 3 minutes before coming to a halt. This is the calm before Beavis counts the band back in, the song erupting into a chaotic shout-along with some of the album’s most quotable lyrics. All together now: “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins / I’m like Fred Astaire / I dance like I don’t ca-yerrrrre” (emphasis theirs, not ours). Combined with the cathartic heaviness of ‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’, these two tracks generate enough energy to power a mid-sized town.

Elsewhere, the band extol the virtues of immigrant workers and c-o-m-m-u-n-i-t-y on ‘Danny Nedelko’,named for the frontman of Bristolian buds Heavy Lungs, whom have since returned the favour), blast Brexiteers on ‘Great’ and take themselves down a peg while simultaneously lampooning those who might take issue with their left-leaning politics on the self-effacing ‘I’m Scum’. Even ‘Love Song’ takes the age-old view of romance and turns it on its head with a dose of white-knuckle noise rock. Across the 42 minutes of ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’, a lot of ground is covered, and you might need time to take it all in afterward. But you’ll be glad you did because it is, hands down, the most vital rock record of the year. You might have missed out on ‘Brutalism’, but don’t miss out on this one.

9/10

Bristol punks IDLES’ sophomore album ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ is out now on Partisan Records. For more of our articles here on TGTF on IDLES, follow this link.

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