IDLES: Joy As An Act Of Resistance – Album Review
IDLES: Joy As An Act Of Resistance (Partisan Records)
Released 31 Aug 2018
Much anticipated, ‘difficult’ Second Album from probably the most important, exciting and interesting band in the country…. Half of Louder Than Wars online team wanted to cover it. So this is one of two or three reviews of the album, explaining why exactly they are so important and so inspiring.
Joy as an Act of Resistance. takes aim at everything from toxic masculinity, nationalism, immigration, and class inequality – all while maintaining a visceral, infectious positivity. Singer Joe summarises: “This album is an attempt to be vulnerable to our audience and to encourage vulnerability; a brave naked smile in this shitty new world. We have stripped back the songs and lyrics to our bare flesh to allow each other to breathe, to celebrate our differences, and act as an ode to communities and the individuals that forge them. Because without our community, we’d be nothing.”
IDLES are the Band of the Moment…. and have been for a while now.
We have barely gotten over how magnificent ‘Brutalism’ is. And ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ is every bit as good, in fact better… the most vital album of the year without question; it’s a work of art that will make you laugh and cry as you dance on the face of a passing bigot.
IDLES have long since taken over from the Manics as being ‘the Only Band that Matters’ TM.
IDLES are, basically, the only UK band for the past twenty years to do something new with Punk – the sound, dynamics, content, ideas and approach. Gone are the tired clichés and predictable tropes, haircuts and faux rebel postures. This is contemporary Punk with Love, passion and compassion.
The music is free-form but disciplined (post)punk fury – like the Pixies in a wind-tunnel at times, all the spark and energy and promise of mclusky fully realised at others. What all those serious, hip American noisenik art-punk bands have been aiming for: an intense cathartic noise which is at the same time accessible with some ‘meaning’ and ‘humour’: IDLES have succeeded in doing. Art-punk with a real beating heart and soul, intelligence and humour, that people can dance to and relate to.
Musically they are at a peak. the hardest-hitting drummer around. Guitarists who use drone, sustain, mega-fast playing and beautiful noise yet still create hooks. A beautiful gentle giant bass monster…
but it is Joe Talbots lyrics which are getting closer examination as no-one else is writing songs quite like this. They are funny, angry, surreal, observational and analytical… personal, political. soul-baring, heart-breaking, contradictory, dumb, clever, snarky, sarky, oblique, cut-up, fucked-up, exaggerated, subtle, sad, beautiful, tender, vicious… they are multitude.
Examples: too many to mention, but here are a few:
I love myself and I want to try
Is just one of several defining lines. Inadvertently and perhaps even subconsciously it is an indicator of the scale of IDLES ambition; to be as big as Nirvana. Stranger things have happened.
I am Dennis Skinners Molotov / I’m Lefty and soft … / This snowflake is an avalanche.
There is, seemingly, a need for a ‘spokesperson for this generation’ who is the diametric opposite to so-called T*mmy R*bins*n. With lines like this a lot of people think that Joe Talbot and co are putting themselves forward… the fact the music encasing the words is so physical and hammering and expressing a lot of peoples anger seems to support this, but don’t burden him/them with that responsibility -this is a rock band expressing themselves about a whole plethora of subjects, personal and political.
Baby Shoes, For Sale, Never Worn
The saddest line you will ever hear sung, is adapted from For sale: baby shoes, never worn, a six-word story, attributed to Hemingway. It appears at the centre of this album and is heartbreaking and true and raw. (Talbot and his partner lost their daughter at birth.)
Ten Points To Gryffindor/ Ten Points To Gryffindor and There’s a snake in my boots…
Lines which quote from Harry Potter and Toy Story show this is a new generation of punks with a whole new set of pop-cultural reference points to draw on and take the piss out of and incorporate into the songs. Ironically a 1977 staple about television being a malign influence does reappear in 2018, in the song of that name “I smash mirrors and fuck TV!” Evel Knievel, Reggie Kray and Get Carter also appear in the iconographic wordscape, retro-ghosts still influencing toxic masculinity.
You are a Top Shop tyrant / even your hair cut’s violent…
A great couplet which makes no sense and perfect sense at the same time. This is where Talbot is at his surrealist best. Sarcasm, irony and in-jokes in-tandem with brutal reality and darkness. I’m sorry you’re mother’s dead…aaaah… Lovely spread is a classic piece of oh-fuck what-do-I-say-English awkwardness posited in a song where the next line is Badda-badda-bing, I’m the King (celebrating a win on a fruit-machine).
When I first heard IDLES I thought, not of other bands, but of a couple of classic movies: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Jack Nicholson) -the all-white clothes they tended to wear onstage, resembled, to me, the mental patients uniform. Something about Joe Talbots performances in the videos has the essence and danger of Jack Nicholson in his prime. (Without the misogyny of RP McMurphy obviously – quite the opposite.)
Fight Club (1999 Brad Pitt/Edward Norton) – Lots of echoes of the movie appear in the lyrics on Brutalism. He punched himself in the face / To prove he wasn’t gay. The list of people in a bar for a bar fight, and the I want to move into a Bovis home / And make a list of everything I own is the ‘I had become a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct…’ near the beginning of Fight Club.
Any day now The Daily Mail will label IDLES ‘the Snowflake Pistols’ and claim they all went to public school and are funded by Russia to distract ‘the youth’ from the heroism of our Tommy.
There is an interview on Youtube where, when asked about their influences the band deadpan about being ‘half Slaves and half Sleaford Mods’ (mocking a review I guess) They are probably into Sunn O))), Merzbow, Boris – all the obscure noise, drone and post-hardcore bands you read about on the Quietus… Slaves and Sleaford Mods are more the crossover John the Baptists to IDLES Jesus.
It sounds like they have been influenced by all kinds of UK punk, Gang of 4: (US hardcore) Fear, Black Flag … but chances are they started with Nirvana and explored music from there. They still sound Brand New somehow, and only a bit retro on the catchy choruses. “Listen to more Jungle” is a shout from one track.
The most annoying thing I have read about IDLES, written by an idiot punk throwback prior to their appearance at Rebellion, is that they are in his opinion “an indie band trying/pretending to be punks”: which misses the whole point of punk – that anyone can do it and there are ‘no rules’.
IDLES are a great outsider band, underdogs: – yet somehow have become successful and caught up in the business of being industry and business favourites. But for once, it is based on merit. because they are actually very good: Popular, hard-working, committed, original, entertaining and astute…and not, seemingly, a money-making proposition. Their comparative youth and energy and intelligence make them a far ‘better’ live concern than any of the older bands making brilliant music ( Nightingales, Cravats…etc) but their albums are bloody brilliant too. They sound like they are recorded ‘studio-live’.
I really hope that IDLES sell a lot of albums, spread the Joy and fire-up the Resistance and that they do inspire change in the way young people think about, life, society and ‘politics’ on a personal and local level…. as well as having a riot on the dancefloor
This is how the Press Release sums up the album;
Joy As An Act Of Resistance is a parade.
It’s a parade of laughing at the funeral, of listening to the bastards, of phlegm on the mirror. It’s a parade of my Grandfather’s wit, it is all the shit haircuts I’ve ever had. It is a parade of naivety, of a warm embrace, it is Young Thug’s dress. It’s the parade of being carried through the grim dark. It’s a parade of laughing at yourself. It is love. It is loving yourself. It is a parade of Tony Benn’s smile. It is Idles, for now. It’s the beautiful smell of immigrant food. It is a parade of vulnerability. It is Ilie Nastase It’s a parade of being at your worst. It is our best, for now. It is our thank you. It is our sorry. It is a parade without fluff but with a tonne of glitter and violence. It is a parade of what I truly miss and what I truly have. It is a parade of the second album. It is us cutting it’s fucking head off. It is a parade of joy in the face of all we don’t want and all we fear. It is a parade of you.
And this is how I’d sum it up:
One of the most inspiring albums I have heard for a long, long time. Punk Rock reinvented and not wearing a mask of masculinity or yoke of tradition, but a wicked smile and its broken heart exposed but still beating in its chest. Punk rock which instead of calling for Anarchy and saying I Don’t Care is shouting UNITY! and LOVE IS ALL.
Tracklisting: 1. Colossus 2. Never Fight a Man With a Perm 3. I’m Scum 4. Danny Nedelko 5. Love Song 6. June 7. Samaritans 8. Television 9. Great 10. Gram Rock 11. Cry To Me 12. Rottweiler
Release date: August 31st. All orders will ship week of August 24th.
All words by Ged Babey whose author profile is here,
Read Fergal Kinneys brilliant IDLES interview in the latest Louder Than War print magazine.