IDLES - Joy as an Act of Resistance
IDLES are not your run-of-the-mill punk band.
They certainly don’t reinvent the wheel, drawing from battering hardcore and brooding post-punk to make a guttural racket, but on their new album they prove to be one of the best new examples of how punk’s deathless spirit keeps on rolling.
Rather than simply recycling the spit-in-your-face nihilism of the genre, Joy as an Act of Resistance wields punk the way the first wave of ‘70s UK bands intended: as an anti-establishment weapon of change, combatting racism, classism, and sexism with songs that skewer xenophobia, Brexit, and toxic masculinity.
Last year, the Bristol five-piece broke free from years of toiling underground with their rowdy state-of-the-nation debut album Brutalism. It earned the group huge adoration from a growing online community, key parts of the British music press, and Dave Grohl, who took them on tour with Foo Fighters.
Capitalising on that momentum, their second album is an important record, both for the band’s career and in its ferocious intent. Fuelled by filth and fury but brimming with positivity, it’s an album that’ll make you, to quote one insightful YouTuber, “want to punch a wall and then hug a stranger.”
Take pro-immigration anthem ‘Danny Nedelko’, for example. Rather than rabidly raising a middle finger to the policy-makers that seek to shut immigrants out, it’s a joyful ballyhoo that celebrates the diversity and strength of people who’ve left their countries behind to start a new life.
‘My blood brother is an immigrant/A beautiful immigrant’ frontman Jon Talbot bellows, the track morphing into a catchy pub shanty call-and-response that’ll rattle around in your head for days. It’s social commentary bundled into a boisterous belter.
IDLES will definitely be competing with contemporaries... for the title of Britain’s best punk band.— Double J, 2018
Remarkably, the track also paraphrases Yoda’s “anger leads to hate” speech from Star Wars, a key example of how IDLES lyrics can be as surprising as they are gripping.
There’s nerdy references to Harry Potter (in ‘Gram Rock’) and remixed quotations of Katy Perry (‘I kissed a boy and a liked it’) and Nancy Sinatra (‘These boots were made for stomping/and that’s just what they’ll do’). And who would’ve guessed a heavy album in 2018 would contain not one, but two Dirty Dancing shout-outs!?
‘Love Song’ contains the line ‘I carry a watermelon’, and ‘Cry To Me’ is a full-blooded cover of the Solomon Burke original that soundtracks a climactic embrace between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
Talbot’s strength is in mixing these pop culture references with lyrics that get straight to the point in smart, searing messages. ‘This snowflake’s an avalanche’, he bellows on ‘I’m Scum’; on the Brexit takedown ‘Great’, he sings: ‘Blighty wants her blue passport/Not quite sure what the union’s for.’
Elsewhere, IDLES pour venomous scorn on toxic masculinity. The thundering opener ‘Colossus’ (which lives up to its name) decries ‘I am my father’s son/his shadow weighs a tonne’, and ‘I’m Scum’ crucifies Britain’s macho poster boy: ‘I don’t care about the next James Bond… we don’t need another murderous toff.’
Then there’s ‘Samaritans’, which squeezes more potent maxims into one song than most punks manage in an album.
Against a jagged backbeat and cutting guitars, Talbot barks out the traditional expectations on young men to ‘man up, sit down/chin up, pipe down’ and ‘grow some balls’. But then confesses to the smothering ‘mask of masculinity… a mask that’s wearing me’ and the blunt body blow: ‘This is why/you never see your father cry.’
With his charisma and blunt-force accuracy, Talbot is the obvious focal point of Joy as an Act Of Resistance but full credit to the sonic agitators surrounding him.
The serrated guitars of Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan duel and slash across the bludgeoning rhythms of bassist Adam Devonshire and Joe Beavis’ juggernaut drumming. Combined, they make a terrifically listenable racket but they’re also dexterous enough to create space and atmosphere between the tyrannical riffage.
‘June’ conjures an ominous post-punk cloud that conveys a deeply personal tragedy: the death of Talbot’s daughter, Agatha, a stillborn. Over funereal drones and terrifying thuds he wails ‘Baby’s shoes / For sale / Never worn’.
It’s a striking, devastating album centrepiece that proves there’s further depth to the band in addition to their scalping wit and searing self-belief.
Filled with scorching songs you can shout along to, nailed to causes you can believe in, Joy as an Act of Resistance is a compassionate punk manifesto. When 2018 draws to a close, IDLES will definitely be competing with contemporaries like Shame and Goat Girl for the title of Britain’s best punk band.