Vive la Résistance!
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Album of the Year: IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
THIS opinion has been echoed by many others...
IN THIS PHOTO: IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz
and, in the course of deciding on the best albums of 2018, this record has been at the top of my mind. I guess, like many, I was only made aware of IDLES after their debut was released last year. Brutalism seemed to come out of nowhere and signalled this brave band who was taking no prisoners. I had detected a revival and fronting of Post-Punk and a heavier sound but have not really been embraced fully in Britain. Other bands like Slaves were coming through and it would be a few months before Shame joined the one-word band party. I have seen more bands come into the mix since then but IDLES, to me, are at the summit. Brutalism scored big reviews and many wondered why it missed out on a Mercury Prize in 2017. The album was eligible for nomination – not this year as many people wrongly felt – and it would be an absolutely miscarriage of musical justice were 2018’s defining album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, miss out on a nod. I think the boys should already be ordering the top hats, suits and canes so they can casually swan into the ceremony, say how much they love the other nominees – to get their hopes up – and act all shocked when they get the award. I do not think there has been a stronger British album in years and would be flabbergasted if one equalled IDLES’ sophomore L.P. by the time the Mercury shindig rolls around!
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
Many knew the band would produce an epic and biblical album after their lauded debut. The press were right behind them and there was there was this genuine excitement. The band are already talking about the third album and, given the touring they have completed and where they have been, I am surprised they even have time to go to the toilet! The buzz has been immense and they have pummelled the globe with their extraordinary live set. Led by the charming and hirsute Joe Talbot; the band are this incredibly connected and innovative band who are unbeatable as a unit. Each player is unique and can improve any other band: together, they have this majestic connection, chemistry and brotherly kinship that feed into the music. I am not sure many, the band included, knew how strong Joy as an Act of Resistance would be. Released on 31st August; IDLES had time to absorb all the splits, stresses and strains that defined the year before. Brexit was, believe it or not, in the mess it is now back then but the band was feeding from the anxieties and uncertainties many felt. We are all in a very scary and pitiful situation and it seems this floating island of ours is getting further from the rest of the world by the day. IDLES talked about important subjects such as the nature of masculinity and manhood on their debut. On its follow up, they seemed to reach new peaks and crystallise their thesis.
Once was the time – and it still happens to a degree – where male bands talked brashly about sex, being a bloke and ‘manning-up’. That notion that men should not disclose their feelings and remain aloof has been a common thread in music for decades. Other bands are talking about toxic masculinity but none have done so as effectively and loudly as IDLES. The boys have thrown away the men-in-bans-who-play-loud rulebook that has been stained, tattered and abused for years. They have come in, proved they can pen this immediate and energised songs but not compromise in terms of intellect and emotional maturity. Maybe that is the reason I prefer Post-Punk to the original movement. Newer artists are not nearly as brash, sexist and emotionally closed-off as their forefathers. I love groups like the Sex Pistols and The Clash but they did not often talk about opening up and talking about your feelings. To them, and their peers, that notion seemed counter-intuitive and not suitable for a movement that spat, smoked and shagged its way into the heart. Another reason why I feel IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance is this year’s king record is the sheer range of subjects. They can talk about masculinity on Never Fight a Man with a Perm but stand up for immigrants and this country’s rich tapestry on Danny Nedelko.
In the course of two tracks they manage to open your mind and eyes; shout against the push of anti-immigration and those who feel men should be men – meaning they need to keep things bottled in and not be too emotive. Samaritans is an intense and deeply striking look at male suicide – one of the biggest killers in young men – and, again, this is the sound of a band more akin to a political party. I have jokingly suggested IDLES should run the country and one feels having Joe Talbot as the Prime Minster and his brothers in the Cabinet would lead to a richer and much more stable country. The man should seriously consider a role in the Government but, in many ways, Joy as an Act of Resistance is the revolution, rebellion and rouse that has awakened the music scene. Other charged and socially-aware albums from Anna Calvi, Shame; Christine and the Queens and SOPHIE have helped make 2018 one of the best years for music in a long time. The 1975 have also made a late charge for ‘album of the year’ with A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and, again, social subjects and political touches have made their music so bold, exciting and relevant. So much of what has come before has been the traditional mainstream fare: songs about love, the usual balls and not really reflecting what is happening in the wider world.
IDLES are at the forefront of this new scene that takes responsibility and holds others to account. One might think their second album is a judgmental and needlessly angry affair. Rather than scorn and smash against people with no constructive side and humour; IDLES infused Joy as an Act of Resistance with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and wonderful asides. They are, as this Guardian review states, a band who can mix the absurd, emotional and humorous and create this strange and wonderful effect:
“But he can also be laugh-out-loud funny. “You look like a walking thyroid / You’re not a man you’re a gland,” he sings at the small-town bully in Never Fight a Man With a Perm: “a Topshop tyrant / Even your haircut’s violent.” Conversely, June addresses the death of Talbot’s daughter at birth, with a version of the poignant, six-word poem often attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Baby’s shoes. For sale. Never worn.” The band tackle everything from I’m Scum’s Fall rockabilly to soul classic Cry to Me, previously recorded by Solomon Burke and the Rolling Stones. Idles won’t be for everybody: this isn’t good-time, aspirational, radio-friendly pop. But for anyone in need of music that articulates their concerns or helps them to work through their troubles – or anyone who simply appreciates blistering, intelligent punk – they might just be Britain’s most necessary band”.
There is a lot of emotion and charged sentiments at play on IDLES’ masterpiece. As AllMusic stated in their review of Joy as an Act of Resistance; the band manage to make the heavy and intense sound accessible, digestible and instructive:
“It runs the risk of being overwhelming, if not for the sense of elation that Talbot brings to the table, masterfully exemplified by his staunch defense of immigration on "Danny Nedelko," which is both a personal case for a good friend -- the lead vocalist of Heavy Lungs -- and a series of more relatable characters that immigration has brought to the U.K. Most importantly, the track swells to such manic levels of celebratory joy that it inescapably sweeps everything along with it. Conversely, the linchpin of the album, "June," features heartbreaking lyrics and is easily the most personal song for Talbot; it entails the tragic loss of his baby daughter, an honest and brave move, especially considering how recently that unfortunate event took place.
In a move almost possible to predict, Idles have also included a full-blown cover with their own rendition of Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me," which works more than it really should, both thematically and in this new crunchier form. Overall, Joy as an Act of Resistance manages to plumb new depths for Idles -- that they've achieved another record in such a short space of time is admirable, let alone one that shines head and shoulders over the majority of their peers -- and it certainly upholds their status as one of the U.K.'s most exciting new acts”.
Reviews like this have flooded in over the past few months but I know the band do not take them lightly! They have been touring like nutters but Talbot and the gang have taken to social media to show their appreciation and affection for the fans and journalists who have helped make their latest album this sensation. The credit should be given to the band that have made an album with such urgency have this complexity. Unlike so much Punk and Post-Punk music; this is not about creating flammable and enflamed music that is designed merely to get people chanting and moshing. So many bands exert little wit, thought and maturity when it comes to making an album, in their mind, primed for the legions of fans and masses. Listen to opener Colossus and how it has these layers and nuances. Danny Nedelko is crammed with witty lyrics and unusual lyrics that paint pictures whereas Samaritans provokes tears with its directness and emotional weight. Guitar lines are often bursting with colour, flavour and invention. So few bands have the same ability to cram so much into a song and still have it sound effortless and easy to understand. Each of the twelve album tracks are bursting with life and it is hard to decide upon a defining anthem. From the snarling and brilliant closer, Rottweiler, to the peerless I’m Scum; each song has its own skin and each thrills the bones! Love how some songs can completely change directions and do not conform to cliché and rigid structure.
IDLES are a band who play by their own rules and do not blindly follow the pack. This, coupled with the need to speak more freely and purely than any politician out there has led to this amazing album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. I know for a fact the L.P. will be nominated for awards and win most of the silverware. 2018 has been especially strong regarding themes and the importance of the lyrics but IDLES, to me, have reached higher and lingered in the mind longer. I know the guys will have some time to recharge over Christmas and one wonders how they can follow an album like Joy as an Act of Resistance?! We said that after 2017’s Brutalism and, in a short time, the band answered those queries with an album even stronger and more complex. I know a third album will document the same sort of themes as Joy as an Act of Resistance but expect new elements to come into the mix. Given the amount of touring IDLES have done; that additional strength and honing will go into the studio and they will be an even stronger unit than they were this time last year! The band, Talbot especially, have provided incredible interviews this year and spoken more articulately and beautifully than any other artist.
I will wrap things up but this interview with The Line of Best Fit from a few months back seems to define the passion Talbot has; how he sees many of the song as reflections of himself and the need to better himself:
“...As are all my songs, right?,” he snaps back. “'I'm Scum' is about me! It's because these come from a point in my life where I have had to reflect on myself to improve. I had to get the horrible little corners of my psyche out, and these were not from a time I was proud of – I'm not really proud of anything – but it was a crappy time in my life. I behaved abysmally, and I brought that with me when I came to Bristol. I was a real cunt at times.”
Awakening that kind of reaction is a tall order, but every tiny detail in the album has been crafted to a defined set of goals – a benefit of working to a brief – with an enormous amount of subversion in place to force people to think in new ways. Politics, masculinity, and violence are all turned topsy-turvy for effect, but even the vehicle of punk is subverted – it's traditionally an angry, viscious, masculine artform, but IDLES make it anything but.
“It's all mindful and picked out,” explains Talbot. “Subversion is a perfect word. For instance, the context of 'punk' and all that crap that goes with it – it's a very machismo-driven sphere. Rock 'n' roll is machismo... it's a bunch of codpieces and bullshit ideologies driven by bloated egos and cocaine. We get called a punk band all the time; this album is an awareness of that”.
It has been a hectic, successful and revelatory two years for IDLES and the sheer pace, pressure and pride put their way could see them fold. They are beloved and growing bigger with each record. I hope they afford themselves some time to detox from the rush and sweat of the stage; enjoy a brief break and then think about 2019. The guys have loved the fans’ love and touring all around the world. They must be knackered and I do hope they have adequate space to reflect and ponder. What they have given the world with Joy as an Act of Resistance is a modern-day sermon and mandate that takes tricky subjects and lesser-discussed areas – suicide and immigration, for example – and opens them up for conversation. Not only have the band created these fine and memorable songs but their lyrics have provoked discussion, helped people and made many, myself included, less afraid to speak and be emotional. That is a very special and rare gift and one IDLES should be proud of! Who knows how many lives they have enriched, saved and changed because of their music. I am not saying every album should have the power to do that but if you create a record that potent and universal then how can one not get excited?! This has been the year of IDLES and, to me, there is no other album that can topple Joy as an Act of Resistance. I would love to catch up with the guys next year and see what they are planning next but, given how frantic their year has been, I hope they have a mini-break where they can open presents, relax with family and do some chilling. It was in no doubt after the first listen but, eleven weeks after its release, I am beyond-certain that 2018’s strongest album is the incredible, rich and immaculate...