Album Review – IDLES, ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’

Words by Joe Bulger (@notjoebulger)


IDLES have long been a divisive but unshakably important presence in the UK’s much maligned guitar scene; already a culture dish for the uninteresting, uninspired and at many times unlistenable. Eighteen months on from the release of lauded debut album, Brutalism, the Bristol five-piece are this week gearing up to release its hotly anticipated follow-up, the fittingly titled Joy as an Act of Resistance. Seizing much of its predecessor’s success, it’s a release that’s both introspective, and comically narrative, a space of hope, a space of love, compassion and most of all, vulnerability – “This album is an attempt to be vulnerable to our audience, to encourage vulnerability; a mere brave naked smile in this shitty new world.”

Weighing in on pertinent and even uncomfortable themes, it isn’t Joy’s proclivity to social appraisal that earmarks it as one this year’s most compelling releases, but rather it’s accessibility and universal relevance to each and every one of us on today’s generational spectrum. Whether you’re aged sixteen or sixty, you will inevitably find a nugget of lyrical wisdom here that speaks to you, and only you. This is punk rock for the millennial age.

In the firing line is toxic masculinity, class inequality, and post-Brexit panic, all approached with the same fury, beauty and farcical humour as we’ve come to expect from the band, none more so than on Colossus, the album’s storming two-part opener. Instruments swell and crash like the tide around singer Joe Talbot’s brilliantly acidulous affront towards male image and expectations, falling away as the song reaches fever pitch before ushering in a ludicrously entertaining ninety seconds of defiant punk rock that not only sets a spectacular precedent, but has the utmost fun in doing so.

Recent single Samaritans finds similar success, its “man up” refrain reciprocated by clattering snare drums and a brooding chorus line that’s well worth its salt. “I love myself and I want to try”, Joe growls, a candid reference to infamous Nirvana B-side I Hate Myself and Want to Die. He later alludes to Katy Perry’s controversial 2008 single, abandoning the deadening weight of male expectation that’s suffocating him – “I kissed a boy and I liked it!” Straddling a delicate line between rambunctious, all out fun and deft social commentary, IDLES transcend the gimmickry which would no doubt befall even the most routinely experienced artists.

Danny Nedelko, the album’s second single is a positively punk rock celebration of immigration, written about a close friend and fellow-frontman of Bristol post-punk compatriots, Heavy Lungs (title star Danny even makes an appearance in the song’s accompanying video). It’s both a triumphant middle finger to the sceptics, and a roll call of immigration’s greatest success stories. Sticking to their guns in truest punk fashion, Joy sees IDLES take aim at authority and social contention in such a way that’s seldom seen in the mainstream today, whether it be homophobia (Colossus), superficiality (Television) or even the Royal Family (I’m Scum), they leave little untouched.

It is at times difficult, even impossible to pick apart Joe’s astutely dry wit from his attempts at outright sincerity. Love Song is punk rock’s answer to a Rom-Com flick – “I really love you / Look at the card I bought / It says ‘I Love You’”. It’s all too easy to dismiss as sarcasm, before you remember who it is you’re listening to. Its follow up, the stomach-turning slow burner June tells of the singer’s own personal tragedy, encapsulated in a single mortifying lyric – “Baby shoes for sale: never worn”. It’s a parent’s worst possible nightmare, and an inconceivably difficult listen, but it nevertheless makes for one of Joy’s most cogent moments. IDLES still refuse to do anything by halves.

Joy’s finale, the snarling blowout of Rottweiler brings the album to a careering close as it spins out of all control. “Smash it! Burn it! Destroy the world! Burn your house down!” Talbot wails as his bandmates collapse around him. Amidst the chaos, the album’s final declaration is again heard – “Unity!” If the Old World Order must be torn down and rebuilt brick by brick, then so be it they say. Crafting catharsis out of trauma and hope out of fear Joy as an Act of Resistance is IDLES mission statement for a better world. Never before has the revolution been this unapologetically loud.

9/10

Joy as an Act of Resistance will be released August 31st via Partisan Records


Featured image courtesy of Partisan Records

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