Review Summary: I've got a penchant for smokes and kicking douches in the mouth. Sadly for you, my last cigarette's gone out.Joy as an Act of Resistance
is a very important album, especially given the context of it's release. Punk tends to suffer under conservative governments - not because of a lack of anything to be angry about, but because often satirising such obvious and easy targets is difficult without being painfully derivative. 'Rock Against Bush' and the radio punk of the early 2000s stands as proof of this, and it could be argued that political punk as a broad movement hasn't really ever reclaimed the heights it reached in the 80s, as old titans grew impotent to attack the same evils, and newer artists didn't pick up the slack. Sophomore albums are also not the easiest things to get right - just look at the dearth of recent British bands who have, to varying degrees, failed to follow through on their initial promise - Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Marmozets, Catfish and the Bottlemen to name just a few.
IDLES' first album wasn't just 'promising' or 'good', as many of their contemporaries' debuts were however - Brutalism
was arguably the best punk album of the decade upon release, at least on this side of the pond. Vicious, scathing, bleak and darkly comedic, it was a breath of fresh air; a revisiting of a different era of punk and post-punk, with political lyrics not wrapped up in cheesy metaphor, but direct and blunt. Critics loved it too, with even the infamous Anthony Fantano singing it's praises, and for such a young band, an album like Brutalism
is undoubtedly a daunting one to follow up. But for anyone curious about the quality of Joy
, fear not - old fan or new, there's something here for everyone, even if it's not quite the same record as it's predecessor.
Where their debut was very much tonally consistent, IDLES relish the opportunity to throw variety and difference into the mix on this new LP. Melody has become a more central focus, and whilst hooks were never really the focal point of the band's songwriting, they've begun to take more prominence on Joy
. This isn't to say that the record is the band selling out - quite the contrary, but the infectious optimism of lead single 'Danny Nedelko's chorus is sure to worm it's way into your subconscious. 'Great' works a similar angle, a scathing, sarcastic cross-examination of Brexit voters taking a tongue-in-cheek jab at the misinformation that clouded the referendum on lines like "Blighty wants her blue passport, not quite sure what the Union's for". 'Television' completes the trio of overtly positive songs, decrying the mass media's obsession with beauty, emphasising self love through some cathartic acts of destructiveness, and holds up as a standout track alongside two of the record's singles.
This melody hasn't watered down the band's fury though - 'Gram Rock', 'I'm Scum' and 'Never Fight a Man with a Perm' make up three of the band's heavies tracks to date, utilising the bottom end of the guitar in a way that's usually been reserved for pummeling bass lines in the group's back catalogue. The bleakness of Brutalism
rears its head repeatedly too - 'Samaritan's rally against toxic masculinity feels like the kindred spirit of a track like 'Exeter', whilst 'Rottweiler's sheer tirade of energy is sure to get some circle pits moving, with its frenetic punk rhythms. 'Love Song' even feels like a direct sequel to 'Date Night', picking at the issues of modern love, from it's materialism to possessiveness, veering away from the initial optimism of the track into uncomfortable dissonance and violence.
Where Idles really shine however, is on the tracks they decide to experiment within their formula. 'Colossus', the opener, embraces the atmospheric percussiveness of post-punk, building tension through repeated lyrical cycles before closing out with a blast of more orthodox, punkish noise. Setting an uncomfortable tone initially before resolving, the track embodies the tension and cathartic release that plays out across the album, and gives the rhythm section a go in the spotlight which Talbot's charismatic vocal performance usually occupies. The most impactful moment however, is one almost devoid of the furious guitars and mechanical rhythm that drives much of the record. It is one of absolute contrast, something IDLES attempted before on 'Slow Savage', but didn't quite nail.
'June' is a simple, atmospheric song about a misscarriage. Coming slap bang in the middle of the track listing, it's an uncomfortable listen and provides a much needed pause from aggression to vent something a lot more tender. A lyrical idea is repeated to close the song - "Baby shoes for sale, never worn." This simple sentiment is testament to how well this album succeeds in what it sets out to do - for all the bravado, politics and fire, IDLES know exactly when, and more importantly how, to show vulnerability.
I opened this review by saying this album is important, and I double down on that. Sure, it's not flawless - the football-chant-ish chorus on 'I'm Scum' feels a little jarring, and the penultimate track 'Cry to Me's weird, off kilter feeling, whilst unsettling and satisfying, isn't as memorable as the rest of the album. But in spite of these minor flaws, there's nothing notably subpar here, and the eclectic nature of the album makes it a constantly engaging listen where other punk albums might become a little tiring after 40 plus minutes. Heavy, chaotic, emotional, melodic, raw - Joy as an Act of Resistance
is about as good a follow up to IDLES' debut as anyone could have hoped for. Sophomore records are difficult, and so is making political punk that doesn't end up derivative or cheap, but somehow, in spite of it all, IDLES have triumphed on Joy
. If you're pro-Trump, for you this album ain't, but for the rest of us, go listen to IDLES. They're pretty good.