IDLES have arrived at a crucial time. With the United Kingdom in a state of turbulence, the Bristol punk band deliver a necessary antidote. Joy as an Act of Resistance is gut-wrenchingly good. The music depicts anger and revolt, but the message is often tender: love yourself, and love others. Compassion and unity will reign victorious over bigotry and hate. IDLES’ liberal declarations are hardly subtle, but they are incredibly hard-hitting and frequently effective. Serious concerns declared with sarcasm, satire and a smirk. This is as close we’ve come to a cultural punk force since its mainstream peak back in the ’70s.
Joe Talbot is the leader of the pack, and his mocking jibes get more amusing with each listen. ‘You’re one big neck with sausage hands’, he slurs on “Never Fight a Man With a Perm’, before offering the assurance that ‘Islam didn’t eat your hamster’ on the Brexit-inspired “Great”. It genuinely borders on standup. That said, IDLES can and do go far beyond humour. The vulnerability shown by Talbot, particularly on songs like “June” and “Samaritans”, is what makes the record such an engaging listen. Not to mention the sheer compassion of “Danny Nedelko”, and the Dirty Dancing inspired “Love Song”, which, incidentally, is a stonking tune.
Talbot may be the main draw, but he’s not the sole sell. IDLES is a movement after all, and the band do a stellar job by providing an accompaniment that is both chaotic and methodical. They strike upon some phenomenal grooves at times (see “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” and “Love Song”). If I were being selfish — which I am — I’d want even more. The best cuts on here are a huge rush, and I can’t get enough of them. I think I speak for many of us when I say that IDLES are the musical outfit that the UK has been craving for some time. Joy as an Act of Resistance is comprised of great love and affection, and it exudes a spectacular sense of unity. The mission statement strives for jubilance, but there are some harrowing obstacles to overcome on the way. Just remember, we’re all in this together…8 10
Favourite tracks // Never Fight a Man With a Perm
For all its fire and biting satire, Joy as an Act of Resistance feels like an album that sells itself short. It’s powerful, righteous, funny music that defies labels. Punk? Post-punk? Krautrock? Beans on Toast after a tour of Vietnam? All close, but not quite. The sound here can only be described as ‘IDLES’ — witty, gritty resistance of the highest order. The social conscience of Joy is brazen, though certainly not one-dimensional. From Brexit to the manufactured controversy of James Bond casting, IDLES swing hard and fast. The record doesn’t feel like a partisan project, though. Joy is catharsis, not a manifesto. Put simply, Joe Talbot is here to get some things off his chest. Saddle up.
Agree or not with well ‘ard softie lefty spirit, the execution is thumping. Talbot’s wordplay and delivery careers along a previously unmapped line between Shakespeare and the local drunk. “I’m Scum” revels in the muck, while “Television” dismantles media-driven insecurity with the succinct (and super catchy) suggestion to ‘smash mirrors and fuck tv.’ There are more lyrical highlights than I could possibly list here. The instrumentals clatter along relentlessly behind Talbot, though they’re not granted enough space to match him. The weight of “June” — or “Divide & Conquer” from their debut album, Brutalism — shows the group have more range than is showcased on Joy. The best records in IDLES’ neighbourhood (think Never Mind the Bollocks or Silence Yourself) explode through speakers and smack you around a bit. My face is held out for Joy, ready and waiting, but the mix’s restraint keeps the record from landing blows. I hear the power; I just don’t feel it. Instead I’m left disappointed not be hearing the group live, where, if Joy is anything to go by, they’re doubtlessly superb.
At present IDLES feels like an outlet for Talbot. Whatever’s on his mind is what we hear. Given the state of Talbot’s mind this is hardly a problem, but I can’t help but wonder at what the band could achieve if they treated albums as statements rather than series of statements. Too often songs feel less essential than their neighbours. As Talbot himself acknowledges, restraint can actually make a work more forceful. The track “Samaritan”, a blunt picture of masculine expectations, was inspired by The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry. Talbot lauds Perry’s ability to ‘encapsulate such complexity with a sledge hammer.’ Similar can be said of Joy. It’s a smart, thunderous, life-affirming record. I hope its followup finds space for a chisel.7 10
Favourite tracks // I’m Scum
Noisy, abrasive guitar music tends to rub me up the wrong way, often feeling like it’s all mouth and no trousers. IDLES have escaped my preconception with their latest album, however, combining powerful instrumentals with satisfyingly constructed lyrics full of genuine sentiment. Joe Talbot appears as the driving force here, sounding off through the record about the current state of the world and personal experiences affecting him. “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” is hard to beat as a favourite in this tracklist and makes for a prime example of Talbot’s way with words that elicit wry smirks from a listener. To top it off, the ongoing riff contributes towards a stonking, galloping instrumental that vaguely reminds me of a rough, punky Foals during the verse, before descending into a cacophony of satisfying noise during the chorus. “June” is also notable in its profoundly personal subject matter and its appropriately sombre pace.
With that said, Joy as an Act of Resistance is refreshingly sincere and positive in a time where artists are finding it easy to sensationalise and despair. Its instrumentals are tetchy and fast-paced as one might expect of punk rock, but they retain a weight that often gets lost in the blasts of drums and guitars synonymous with the genre. The vocals pull more than their fair share of some tracks, but the guitar work in the likes of “Great” and “Colossus” is often the making of a track. The sheer tirade of drumming from Jon Beavis can’t go unmentioned either, setting a phenomenal pace across the album.
IDLES join a growing list of exciting music coming out of the UK, and this latest release only builds my anticipation for their next step even further. Given the depth that is on show here, it feels like this is a band with more to give. As it is though, this follow-up album builds on their debut with honest, thumping tracks that keep me coming back for more.8 10
Favourite tracks // Never Fight a Man With a Perm