Release Date: 31 August 2018
Label: Partisan Records
Producers: Space, Adam Greenspan, Nick Launay
For the last few years it feels like we have been stuck on some surrealist rollercoaster. Despite its many twists and turns we are still hurtling towards the ground at frightening speed and is almost certainly going to end in a great fiery doom for us all. Every time this rollercoaster takes another dive towards its inevitable conclusion there seems to be a bit of a muttering online that ‘at least this will mean there is more good music again’ and ‘we need punk to make a comeback’. Whilst I’d make the argument that music has always been good if you went out and looked for it, and punk certainly never went anywhere; it cannot be doubted that maybe, just maybe, Idles could be the band everyone was hoping for.
Released back in July, Joy As An Act Of Resistance does exactly what it says on the tin. It is a damning assessment of almost everything going on in the world around us, from rampant xenophobia and Brexit, to toxic masculinity, the mental health crisis, and declining self-worth. This is all tackled with a sardonic wit and humour that is genuinely uplifting at times. Despite dealing with often depressing subjects, Idles do so in a way which more often than not tries to focus the more positive aspects. This is most clearly seen on single ‘Danny Nedelko’ which is a glorious celebration of diversity that manages to create a hook out of something as inconsequential as a name being spelled out along with the one word refrain. ‘Unity.’
Unity seems to be at the core of everything on Joy As An Act of Resistance. Unity in acknowledging past mistakes as seen in ‘Never Fight a Man With A Perm’. Unity in being unable to look past your own imperfections and constantly comparing yourself to what society deems as the ideal on ‘Television’, and above all; unity in deciding to stick two fingers up to everything mentioned above and living in the way you want. Far more than a campaign slogan, ‘we’re all in this together’ seems to be Idles’ main manifesto point on this record.
Despite the humour and overall positive vibes the album gives, there is one moment in particular which might be the most heartbreaking song of the year in ‘June’. Penned by frontman Joe Talbot merely days after losing his daughter in childbirth, borrowing one of Hemingway’s most famous lines, it is genuinely difficult to listen to, and can really catch you off guard by coming in the middle of a record which tries so hard to focus on the light within the darkness. Such a song being included here is one of the best statements Idles can make. By putting such trauma out there so openly will encourage unity among those who have experienced such a tragedy. Following track, ‘Samaritans’ almost feels like a companion song, emphasising the importance of talking about and dealing with grief instead of trying to ignore it.
However, Joy As An Act of Resistance has also had a fair few detractors, with some feeling that the humour used is too cartoony and at times nonsensical. Some feel it isn’t enough to merely talk about such issues, that lots of bands have done so before and do so with more nuance and depth. These points may have some weight, but it is Idles approach and ultimately quality that marks them out against similar bands. No other band tackling these issues in such an open way in recent times have performed on Jools Holland. No other band like this have made it to No.5 in the UK album charts whilst openly criticising so many aspects of British culture. At the end of the day, this is still a punk album, not a master’s thesis dissecting the world’s problems. There are times when Joe Talbot seems to be playing up to some cockney caricature (it might surprise you to learn the band are actually from Bristol), but this works in the context of the record as in many songs Joe seems to be trying to play a character, whether that is his own or imagined.
Maybe the music behind all of the themes isn’t quite so original or groundbreaking as it could be. Perhaps Idles oversimplify, or gloss over a lot of the issues they cover, inserting a joke about the price of bacon baps in a post-Brexit world rather than analysing the reasons why it has happened. Yet it is exactly that which has resonated with people. It can be argued that we should expect more from our artists, but given that everyone has been crying out for a band to come along address these issues and connect with people, Idles are exactly what was ordered.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Danny Nedelko’, ‘I’m Scum’, ‘June’