Joe Talbot, Idles singer, is, as we know, a man who looks like the bloke in your town who gets filthy drunk on a Saturday night and stands in the High Street shouting at parked cars.
For all I know, Joe, in his pre-clarity days might have done just that; for all I know that bloke in the High Street might be suffering from a mental health issue; he might be lonely; he might be a genial man who has lost his way or he just likes a drink….but no-one knows because no-one has ever got close enough to ask him. Some appearances can be deceptive or misleading. I think that, in some ways, is what the new Idles album is about.
The recent embracing of Idles has taken, even me, by surprise. Not the fact that people have gravitated toward them; or that there are lots of people who’ve listened to them or seen them live, who feel a communal bond with them. But that the media, usually too busy to see anything that’s not right in front of their eyes, has become so intrigued by them. They’re in Q Magazine! They were on the News At Ten the other week, The NEWS AT TEN!
Some of this must come down to Talbot himself. The nominated spokesman, he comes across as an empathetic man (which he is. He has a lot of experience to draw on). On ITV he was measured and giving (the walking embodiment of the phrase “a trouble shared is a trouble halved?). The telly execs must be so confused! So elated. A working class man with a heart of gold and a brain!
All this new found coverage puts our anti-heroes in a strange place. It raises expectations. It invites comment and critique on a wider scale. It’s not quite overkill (binge-publicity?!?) but it feels strange, even if it’s thoroughly justified.
There aren’t many bands who can hold a candle to Idles at the moment, in terms of impact and vision. Their second record confirms this.
Unlike the (still excellent) ‘Brutalism’, which was gloriously random and unexpected, ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is more targeted, more deliberate, more considered and more lyrically focussed.
Idles understand the power and potential of pop music as a communicative tool; its capability to disseminate ideas and share emotions (Talbot’s vocabulary, his violent, abrasive wit and his unedited moments of brutal honesty are key to this).
I honestly didn’t know where they would pitch this album – a problem they apparently had themselves when they first got together to write and demo it, which led them to scrap their first attempts and start again, afresh.
Coming to terms with the loss of Talbot’s baby daughter (followed by a spell in counselling) Talbot says the task was to look inside themselves and challenge themselves to be “better people, better musicians.” Essentially they’d raised their own expectations before anyone else had a chance to.
NOTE: You can tell they really threw themselves at this record. Really pushed. I sometimes forget, while talking up Talbot, that there is this ferocious, hungry punk-soul machine behind him: that the rest of the band – THE NOISE – deserve more attention (just wait till you feel the full weight of the guitars in ‘I’m Scum’ come crashing down on you).
The result of all this is an album which, is not just about loving each other, it’s about loving yourself; it is defiantly and outspokenly anti-stereotype…vehemently anti-tabloid attitude (to the point that it ends with a track about intrusive news reporters).
It is a hail storm of light bulbs.
It’s like staring out wasps.
The songs, should you need pointers (and most of you won’t because you have ears) split relatively neatly into various themes, hinting at different visions of punk, past and future (there’s a couple of occasions where they’re close to ‘TV Party’-era Black Flag). The Brexit landscape gives you ‘Danny Nedelko’ and ‘Great’ – I love Bowen’s cameo, only a man with such a mischievous moustache could put so much nuance into three words!
There are songs about who you are and how you’re portrayed (‘I’m Scum’) and songs about who you are and how you’re conditioned (‘Television’ and the much discussed ‘Samaritans’, exploring the pressures men feel under to conform to expectations – the problem of stereotyping again).
There is sarcasm and vicious jibing humour, part of Talbot’s arsenal (see ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’: “You are a Top Shop tyrant/even your haircut is violent.”) and there is the absolutely raw ‘June’, which is without doubt the most moving song I’ll hear all year – but an inspirational one too.
And that’s not all….but that’ll do for now.
‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is released today. The rest of rock n roll should be withering on the vine by Monday.
IDLES: an introduction
IDLES in session on 6Music: