One art piece has been discussed at length in recent weeks. In June 2018 Australian stand-up comic Hannah Gadsby released her latest special ‘Nanette’ through Netflix. It ignited a large and, at times, angry debate about the role of comedy in society. Traditional conservative comedy fans argued a comedy show has no right to trade jokes for stories, while some found Gadsby’s approach was more TED talk than streamable stand-up. The same can be snugly applied to the sophomore IDLES record, ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’.
One album, one supporting slot for the Foo Fighters, and numerous festival-stealing appearances later and IDLES find themselves as the most talked-about British punk band of the decade. Their debut operated in a small environment. Vocalist Joe Talbot confronted personal issues such as his mother’s recent death, suicidal friends and “just about me realising how much of an asshole I was to my ex-girlfriend.”
With their feet firmly in the door, IDLES‘ follow-up blasts through any ruminations over possible Second Album Syndrome. A full-scale expansion of everything that made ‘Brutalism’ so brilliant, the group exploit the punk formula to macro issues like Brexit and toxic masculinity with self-awareness, wit and a underlying sense of optimism. The music is raw, acrimonious but the experience is cathartic.
Occupying similar territory to their debut, the one-two effect of aggressive instrumentals and compelling one-liners makes for a blistering listen. ‘Television’ addresses ridiculous beauty standards with precision. Talbot opens with passionate-dad persona: “If someone talked to you, the way you do to you, I’d put their teeth through, love yourself”. Laughable, yes, but admirable in its honesty. IDLES care and they want you to know it.
‘Samaritans’ finds the band confronting toxic masculinity head-first. Chants of “Man up, sit down” and “Don’t cry, drink up” dominate the song, a mantra of the expectations of the modern male. It is, however, a rare moment in which IDLES serve a critique but offer little in the way of correction.
Their criticism with toxic masculinity is fair, but a resolution is hard to come by in the song. Despite a passionate statement of, “I’m a real boy boy and I cry“, an opposition to the aforementioned chants is abandoned. One of the only moments on the album where IDLES raise awareness of an issue, but fail to resolve it. Whether it is up to them to resolve it, is up for debate.
The rest of the album is a seamless example of zealous adoration and wisdom. ‘Danny Nedelko’ is a love letter to immigrants – the title character is a friend of the band. ‘I’m Scum’ serves as a friendly reminder of Joe Talbot‘s – and the crowd on their upcoming sold-out world tour’s – worth.
One-liners have facilitated the sound of IDLES a great deal, but on ‘Joy…’, they take it further. You can come across infectious quotables such as: “My boy fucked Tom Hiddleston’s stylist” (‘Gram Rock’), or: “Even your haircut’s violent, you look like you’re from Love Island” (‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’).
The most affecting line appears on ‘June’. A track dedicated to Talbot’s daughter’s death at birth, it it a heartbreaking cut. A marching kick drum dominates the effort while guitars build in the back but too afraid to step out. Talbot goes on to paraphrase an old poem: “Baby shoes for sale: never worn“. It is the most mellow, reflective fixture on the project. Given the flurry of political and social issues discussed, the brief break only furthers the narrative of IDLES’ role as the most honest reflection of Theresa May’s Britain.
“Joy as an Act of Resistance” is a constant sonic onslaught. ‘Colossus’ opens with a sneer; a brooding distorted guitar note dominates throughout as drums build in stages. It culminates in one of the most cutthroat moments of 2018. IDLES surge forward with an in-your-face hook (“Goes and it goes and it goes, goes and it goes and it goes”), each time further raising the stakes. Humorous brags are hurled towards the end: “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin, I put homophobes in coffins”. From the get-go, you are on the same side.
At times the barbaric tendencies blend in too seamlessly. The thrilling pairing of ‘Television’ and ‘Great’ guarantees the satisfaction of the punk congregation but the choruses barely differentiate. Although the album is claustrophobic with individual landmarks, a slight increase in variety would certainly help distinguish them.
‘Joy’ is an album of its time – it is a signifier similar to how ‘American Idiot’ can chronicle Bush’s administration; listen to it and you can understand the intellect, the opinions and the emotion of the people. ‘Rottweiler’ lifts a weight off shoulders as it collides in its dizzying conclusion. You come out with a stronger sense of self-awareness and empathy.
IDLES are not going to be for everyone. Some may find their sound to be too aggressive, while others will disagree politically. The public will not be fully convinced in a similar scenario to ‘Nanette’. One YouTube profile commented on a live show of theirs, saying: “Prancing around in gay looking outfits… is this suppose [sic] to be punk? What a load of crap”. IDLES will not convert the world to their all-accepting ideology but the effort should not go unnoticed.
The messages are clear, the songs thrive with power and blistering clarity. IDLES spell it out very simply on ‘Danny Nedelko’: “…the C, the O, the M, the M, the U, the N, the I, the T, the Y…”. They care because they want us to. ‘Joy as an Act Of Resistance’ is not just an album, it is their mission statement.
‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ is out now via Partisan Records