IDLES Joy as An Act of Resistance Partisan Records
IDLES’ 2017 breakthrough record Brutalism established the Bristol outfit as contenders to Britain’s long-rusted punk throne. Their missives on Tory rule and the destruction of socialist ideals makes for unlikely hooks – hit up any European festival field last summer and you’d surely have heard Mother’s left-leaning chorus “the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich” echoing around the site. Their second studio album, Joy as An Act of Resistance, comes 18 months on, and cements their position as one of the country’s finest prospects: brutalist thrashers with a heart of gold, documenting the dissolution of established order with a glint in their eye.
No song better captures that sense of chaos than opener Colossus, a clattering two-parter, split between an industrial punk admission of guilt and a fast-and-furious rejection of toxic masculinity’s many tropes. Frontman Joe Talbot compares himself to totemic figures like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Fred Astaire, citing their support of gay marriage and flamboyant dancing respectively. The whole band exercise their rage throughout, drummer Jon Beavis coming off like Animal from The Muppets, and Slinky-necked guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan slicing through countless strings as they wail on their instruments throughout the record.
That fiery energy is buoyed by Talbot, the undoubted star of the show. A witty, absorbing character, he’s Jonny Rotten without the need to flog butter; Mark E Smith with a bright-side sense of moral conscience. The brilliantly-titled Never Fight a Man With a Perm finds him documenting a bar brawl with “a heathen from Eton”, lashing out with his barbed tongue as much as with his fist, while the snotty I’m Scum rejects the notion of the working classes as lacking in emotion and compassion. Elsewhere, he takes on racist Brexiteers, offering up countless more unifying mission statements on Danny Nedelko and Great – with all the vim and venom of that Mother hook.
Talbot doesn’t only lash outwardly, though. June, the record’s grisly centrepiece, finds him lamenting the stillbirth of his child. “Dreams can be so cruel sometimes,” he groans, before a doomy, detuned rumble segues into one of the record’s most haunting moments: Talbot wailing the Hemingway-attributed shortest horror story ever written, “baby shoes for sale, never worn”.
But IDLES seek to offer hope, too. For every acerbic takedown á la Samaritans’ rebuttal to stiff-upper-lip mentality, there’s a counterclaim, such as Cry to Me’s shoulder-to-lean-on riposte. Television is perhaps the best marker of IDLES’ vision for a better world though. “If someone talked to you the way you talk to you, I’d put their teeth through,” Talbot declares, commanding the object of his affections to “love yourself”. It’s a statement thousands of disillusioned men across the globe could do with taking to heart.
IDLES’ return feels like a record born to soundtrack – even attempt to save – this era of broken, brawling and Brexiteering British masculinity. A heady, confusing rush of present-day fury and hope for a brighter future, Joy as An Act of Resistance is a record that bristles with the political and emotional energy of punk’s very best.