For their third album, IDLES look to upscale their sound and vision through collaboration. The result is a mammoth record of intent, an album of big ideas with bigger sounds.
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It is telling how IDLES , the Bristol band so passionately devoted to celebrating love and inclusivity, can attract such derision. The five everymen comprising the group are not your conventional arena headliners. They are fathers, thirty-somethings; a general attitude of regular chap-ness is exuded. And yet their status grows. Last December’s show at the 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace sold out in one day. Next year they will play to 20,000 fans in London alone.
As IDLES’ persistence to spread and/or shout their ideals continues, so does their rise. Mercury Prize nominations, end-of-year lists and even collaborations with The Streets – through their own determination, despite their naysayers, IDLES have become the moment.
For their third effort, IDLES have gone for it. ‘Ultra Mono’ is the sound of a breakthrough. It is a new sound from a voice instantly recognisable. What ‘Ultra Mono’ lacks in nuance, it makes up for tenfold in blunt precision and propulsive noise.
It should come to little surprise that IDLES are not planning on diluting their words. ‘War’ does more than open the album, as it tears through the speakers like a siege. If you thought singer and inimitable frontman Joe Talbot would surrender his vision and try something a tad more intellectual, you would be mistaken. It is a furious opener. Entirely unconcerned with the possibility of complexity. Drummer Jon Beavis does not take long to loosen up; his playing here is relentless. Talbot cracks open his can of humourous yet simple lyrical bullets: “ Clack clack clack a clang clang! That’s the sound of the gun going bang bang ”, he taunts, before the song erupts. Wilfred Owen this is not. Talbot continues: “ Tuka tuk tuk tuk tun tuka! ” is shouted; it is silly, self-parodic. Is it a critique of how Talbot and Co. view the war? The childish immaturity of it? While the headline-catching onomatopoeia may be cringey for some, his damning words carry weight. The song concludes: “ We’re dying for the stone-faced liars. And we’re all going straight to hell .” As cold and cynical as many a war poem.
By now, IDLES are a talking point: a band to identify with, or to turn away from. As is the case with several bands in their field with similar fanbases ( Shame, Fontaines D.C. included), as popularity grows, so does the inevitable backlash. The Bristol punk quintet have their detractors, not that that will quieten them. If you enjoy the bareknuckle aggression of their debut, ‘Ultra Mono’ will appeal. If the Bristol punk quintet’s straight-faced lyrics don’t bother you, their third album will provide.
The typically IDLES cut ‘Anxiety’ is a convincing, self-deprecating and pretty humiliating number. Talbot confesses “ I have got anxiety, it has got the best of me ” – it is effective in its simplicity, he is honest and straight to it. The Jehnny Beth -featuring ‘No Touche Pas Moi’ attacks sexual harassers with no restriction – “ This is a sawn off for the cat-callers, this is a pistol for the wolf whistle ,” he grinds before howling “ CONSENT ” several times over nothing but a kickdrum. They really are the only band that has the ghoul to attempt these types of progressive, slightly imprudent diatribes.
IDLES did not get to where they are by having only their liberal, pro-love agenda; they also know how to muster up rage and mould it into something special. ‘Grounds’ is a colossal stormer. Premiered at their Ally Pally show last year, it sounds, in every sense, massive.
Immense yet dark, it feels like everything that IDLES are capable of. Adam Devonshire ’s bass persistently follows Talbot’s bitter remarks before making way to a headfirst collision of instruments. The chorus packs many punches. “ I am I, unify ”, so goes the hook. The chorus’ contradiction follows the doctrine they have long endorsed of ‘everyone is an island’. The song’s high octane climax reaches intensity levels they have mastered. With a cool swagger and a menacing guitar lead, it is the single you need to lift you up.
And IDLES have tightened the sound further on ‘Ultra Mono’. Single ‘Model Village’ is a blistering pacy post-punk gut-punch. An immensely fun, anarchic number; one of the few times on this record the group channel their fury into something entertaining. Interrogating the underlying bigotry in supposedly idealistic British villages, and those who fear the change towards progression, it has focus that is occasionally inadequate in this project. “ I’ve listened to the things you said, you just sound like you’re scared to death ”, Talbot snarls back.
As for ‘Reigns’, well. It might be their best yet. It is tremendous, and uncomfortably unsettling.
Another snipe at the monarchy and the upper classes, it sounds like thirty bulldogs being carried by one lead – it is bound to unleash. With verses that creep and growl after each rhetorical question Talbot sneers (“ How does it feel to have won the war that nobody wants? ”), the chorus comes in and charges the fort. It possesses so much hate and loves it for it. A venomous spear-headed tirade.
‘Ultra Mono’ has a great flow to it. As with IDLES’ first two records, they have time for a slow-burner (‘A Hymn’ is the best ballad they have penned to date), but the demand to create a proper album – coherence and all that – has paid off. The album’s final run sees them command their followers to celebrate. “ Our unity makes me feel so free to say ‘Fuck you, I’m a lover’ ”, Talbot professes on ‘The Lover’. He has time for his haters: “ You say you don’t like our clichés, our sloganeering and our catch phrase. I say love is like a freeway. ” It is one of the most concise, direct lyrical tracks on the record, and defiantly chaotic in sound.
Bowing out at nearly 45 minutes, IDLES strive to continue their pattern by closing the record with aplomb. ‘Danke’ is a mostly instrumental track, allowing the band’s musicianship to flourish.
It is noisy, aggressive; guitars snap at you while Beavis’ drums take a beating. Paying tribute to the tragic loss of Daniel Johnston , Talbot sings, “ True love will find you in the end, you will find out just who was your friend .”
It sees fit that ‘Ultra Mono’ ends with a message. It is the same message repeated throughout the record – it opened its cartoonish lead single ‘Mr. Motivator’, it loomed over ‘Grounds’ and now, at the end, it sees you out. Joe Talbot grits one final time: “ I am I .” The song suddenly cuts to black. IDLES crave movement, be it dancing at their shows, or politically and socially. While others may roll their eyes at the group, IDLES will not care. They have the microphone and they will not give it up easily. ‘Ultra Mono’ is a step forward, sonically and thematically. Where originality falters, their vision will not. Yes, IDLES are the moment and ‘Ultra Mono’ sees them dance in the face of detestation.