Charity Swales

Idles – ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’: A Review

IDLES are a band that incite two images within their very name: the idolised and the insolent, with both interpretations of the word being considered at length in their back catalogue. Despite their 2017 debut Brutalism, a visceral pub-brawl of an attack on the current state of UK society, being one of the most exciting releases of that year, it was largely slept on, with many calling on its snub from the Mercury Prize (echoed again this year by the exclusion of Shame’s debut Songs Of Praise). The charm of IDLES is their ability to use popular culture and kitchen sink realism (‘1049 Gotho’ literally speaks of “pissing in a kitchen sink”), in order to convey a meaningful but relatable dissection of society with its audience. However, with the follow up Joy As an Act Of Resistance, they strip away the mask of vexation, embracing society in order to incite a need for change. Lead singer Joe Talbot’s voice is more raw and vulnerable and the instrumentation flits between dissonance and unity, as it focuses on a more personal reflection, covering issues from toxic masculinity to Talbot’s stillborn daughter.

Opening track ‘Colossus’ is a drone of noise, emulating a warning alarm, with its caustic instrumentation, foreshadowing the explicit and cacophonous imagery, to discuss the sometimes brazen topics at hand. Talbot menaces “I am my father’s son, his shadow weighs a tonne”, depicting the feeling of the expectation put on the shoulders of the modern generation by older generations. This ‘shadow’ is largely applicable to anything from the consequences of the Brexit vote, to the imposing conformities of society, such as masculinity. However the despairing drone of guitar, accumulates in a crescendo off rallying and vibrant guitars, as though we shouldn’t let anger put a boundary on positivity.

As mentioned something compelling about IDLES is the intelligence and wit of their imagery, especially clear in tracks such as ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’, where we have the image of a “walking thyroid”, a humorous satire on the outspoken ‘lad culture’, that everyone is familiar with, with Talbot expressing . It’s their dead-pan and dry humour that make them so compelling, as they play with idioms and popular culture, such as the Katy Perry reference in ‘Samaritans’ or Nancy Sinatra’s one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”, giving it a new context which almost echoes the quote in 1984 “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”. Though in the album it is made clear that submission does not have to be our reality.

Although it’s not always as bleak, with one of the highlights of the album ‘Danny Nedeleko’ being a celebration of immigrants, and Talbot’s refusal to let them be alienated. “He’s made of bones, he’s made of blood, he’s mad of flesh, he’s made of love”, ridiculing the alienation of immigrants by organisations such as the EDL, pointing out quite simply that we’re all made of the same stuff. The guitar start off dissonant and disjointed, but in the chorus becomes tight and happy, mirroring the unity that Talbot sings of. Tracks like ‘Danny Nedelko’, ‘Great’ and ‘Television’, with their playful and endorphin releasing guitar riffs inspire unity rather than fear and hate, as Talbot toys with the idea that “change isn’t a crime”.

However, as mentioned vulnerability seems to be a pivotal theme within the veins of the album, which are most harrowingly shown on, what is probably IDLES most intimate and bearing song to date ‘June’. Beginning with a swirling and haunting organ and violent drums, Talbot sings of how “Dreams can be so cruel sometimes”, depicting the shattering of idealism, echoed in the abrupt and dissonant guitar. Harrowingly it centres around Talbot’s stillborn daughter, “a stillborn but still born, I am a father”. This is something Talbot wanted to bring to attention, expressing in a recent interview “I wanted to utilise my pain and my experience of trauma as a way of making other people feel like they’re not alone”.

Fittingly, Talbot’s emotional despair is followed up with a track which aims to bring about a discussion on toxic masculinity, a prominent theme throughout the album, with the classic advice of “grow some balls”, that any male will probably have heard countless times in their lifetime. However, Talbot rallies a counteraction with “I’m a real boy, boy and I cry”, against the facade of apathy that men are expected to put up. ‘Love Song’ sees the masking of love with violence, with imagery like  soundtracked by a menacing bass line.

Finishing with the most high-energy track on the album, the snarling ‘Rottweiler’ professes the bands refusal to be contained. The lyrics incite anarchism as Talbot calls to  “Smash it, burn it, just burn the world, burn your house down”, accompanied by the discordant instrumentation. “Unity” he yells which appears to be the main vein of the album, to make a change we must unite as one.

Whereas Brutalism was all guns a blazing, vicious attack on society, Joy as an Act of Resistance shows a more vulnerable, personal side to the band, which makes the issues they raise more accessible to their audience. Armed with unabashed wit and an intelligence, IDLES unique dissection and embrace of society makes them one of the most important UK bands around at the moment, which is cemented in their latest release.


Joy as an Act of Resistance is released on 31st August through Partisan Records.

Image credit: Sonic PR

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1 Response

  1. September 18, 2018

    […] relevant album of not only this year, but also the past few (read me gush about it in depth here). IDLES manage to employ brutal wit, yet adopt a tone of sincerity at the same time, with lyrics […]

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