IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Just-cut-straight-to-the-fucking-chase version: Listening to Joy as an Act of Resistance is like having your head involuntarily clutched to the mosh-sweat-and-beer-sodden-man-boobs of a pogoing stranger in a Jim Jones Revue t-shirt. Only way better than that sounds.
Unnecessary-faff version: A first listen to IDLES’ second album left me desperately avoiding photos of the band. Finding out IDLES vocalist Joe Talbot was anything LESS than an eight-foot Viking who drinks raw bear blood from a whale skull and picks his teeth with a RHINO HORN would have totally ruined it for me. THIS. JUST. TOTALLY. ROCKS; the bass player’s plectrum must be made of solid granite, the drummer piledrives his kit with GIRDERS and I’m pretty sure the guitarist uses a huge haunch of beef instead of a pick. While his vocals remain unmistakably IDLES throughout, Talbot also has the Zelig-like ability to channel the rock and punk greats; variously summoning up Jim Morrison (on Colossus – a song which false-ends into a raw-throated-arms-round-each-other singalong unruly enough to make the Bad Seeds sound like a Glee choir and send The Libertines scuttling off in fear), Joe Strummer (The Scum), Ian Dury (Man With a Perm) and Nick Cave (pretty much every song here).
Fair props to the producer, then, for capturing the band’s raw muscle in all its visceral sinewy glory. Get beneath the skin, though, and this album also has a huge huge heart (June, a wrenching lament for a stillborn child), a ‘lefty, soft’ soul (the Brexiteer-baiting Great, anti-racist, pro-immigration Danny Nedelko, written about a mate of the band, or a spot-on takedown of emotionally-constipated masculine conformity, Samaritans) and humour by the bucketload; it’s often funny as hell (‘ I’m sorry your grandad’s dead….. Errrrrr… lovely spread’, ‘You’re not a man. You’re a gland’) and is not above occasionally pausing the mayhem for a tongue-in-cheek, arched-eyebrow stare straight to camera. One song contains excellent advice about not picking a fight with a man with a perm, while elsewhere, a delicate analysis of self-loathing (Television) turns into an admonition to ‘love yourself’ and resist the pressure to conform to a mediated ideal, before ruining the moment somewhat with the health-and-safety-baiting claim that ‘I smash mirrors and fuck television’. Well. Different strokes, I guess.
Talbot clearly knows his way round a library. And an eclectic record collection. (Vinyl only, obvs. Streaming? You can piss riiiight off!). As the band slams on through, he hangs on for dear life, spitting out gobs of lyrical gristle made up of equal, and equally unlikely, parts Katy Perry, Nancy Sinatra, Jimmy Nail, Alan Partridge, The Prodigy, Hemingway, Bloc Party and Harry Potter. He even appears to make room for cameos from Jimmy Carr and ‘Tom Hiddleton’s stylist’. Mistaking this record for simplistic one-dimensional punk-rock would be a tragic injustice and to completely overlook the complexities and intelligence the band have smuggled in. In short: come for the rock and stay for the emotional depth.
The score? No half measures, you Wuss. It’s all or nothing. Go on then, it’s a FULL-ON 10.