IDLES, Joy as an Act of Resistance, 2018, Partisan Records
Never Fight a Man with a Perm
Cry to Me
Bristol based IDLES got together in 2009. This is their second album. Their style is punk (although the band themselves would reject this moniker) and hard rock. Joy as an Act of Resistance reached number 5 in the chart.
"Colossus" is both the album opener and the lead single. This rant against toxic masculinity has a slow lyrical start but an insistent beat. It’s a solid opener, but it does feel a bit over long, although it completely changes tone near the end. "Never Fight a Man with a Perm" continues the theme but it’s much more like a standard punk song, although there is definitely a touch of Madness on this track. The marching beat of "I'm Scum" draws you into this diatribe against critics of the band. It’s angry, punky and brilliant. "Danny Nedelko", written about lead singer Joe Talbot’s friend (who also fronts a band, Heavy Lungs) is another blistering and brilliant track, the lyrics perfectly combining the human and the political at a time when the complexities of Brexit and it’s links to racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric were really coming to the fore. "Love Song" has an almost otherworldly start there is so much reverb going on. Also, someone shouting; “I fucking love you” is about the level of sentimentality I can get behind. It’s a fun juxtaposition of pure sentiment and shouting. I actually quite like it. "June", written about Joe Talbot’s stillborn daughter and the pain he felt around her birth and death as well as his embarrassment at his strength of feeling makes you stop and think. The drums on the track are brutal. "Samaritans" takes on extra significance in the light of its predecessor. It continues the running theme of masculinity as well as mental health more widely. "Television", like "Love Song", is all shouty affirmation, but about loving yourself rather than someone else. Again it’s great hearing Joe aggressively shouting “Love yourself”. It’s a joyful, positive track, despite it’s acknowledgment of how societal pressures affect people’s self esteem. "Great" is the album’s overtly anti-Brexit song and it rips along thanks to the brilliant rhythm section. The line; “Islam didn’t eat your hamster” perfectly sums up the band’s opinion on the thought process of some Leave voters. "Gram Rock" with it’s furious guitars is a fun, slightly silly tale of two bankers taking cocaine at a funeral (if such a scenario can be described as fun). The cover of soul classic "Cry to Me" is a surprise addition but a well done and welcome one, while it’s obviously much harder edged, it also feels sort of dirty in comparison to the original and I have to say I much prefer it to the Rolling Stones’ version. The guitars are frantic and furious on closer "Rottweiler" which decries tabloid newspapers and the negative effect that biased media reporting has on those that consume it.
This is without a doubt the best new punk album I’ve heard in a long time. Positivity, self acceptance and self respect are not things you would necessarily expect to go hand in hand with punk music and this makes it feel fresh and new. Despite it’s darker moments, overall it left me feeling uplifted. It is firmly rooted in the punk tradition of music that is fighting for political and social change, although IDLES think this kind of thing has to start with introspection.
It feels in no sense like a difficult second album but rather a great continuation and build on of the themes and sound created on their first album. Made during the initial Brexit fallout it remains just as relevant two years down the line. We could all still do with being a bit more mindful and compassionate towards one another.
Joy as an Act of Resistance is exactly that and I can’t wait to hear IDLES next album, which is due out in September.