Review Summary: they back
Not that IDLES were lost forever; their first two albums Brutalism
and Joy as an Act of Resistance
demonstrated explosive post-punk, the second album being a particularly resounding triumph of sharp political wit and gruff riffs. The discourse sometimes tended towards the cringe
, but was supported by bona fide anthems like "Never Fight a Man With a Perm" or "Danny Nedelko". Ultra Mono
, on the other hand, did not offer as much musical diversity as its predecessors. Worse, it pushed the cursor of political progressiveness further and indulged excessively in shouted slogans to the detriment of any substance, and this at the limit of self-parody. Frontman Joe Talbot has since admitted that he thinks the album "translated badly" in the absence of live shows last year. Just another way of admitting failure innit.
But with Crawler
, IDLES seem reinvigorated and venture into new territory by embracing a complex range of musical influences, resulting in their most visceral and introspective work. Their power is intact and is used to more interesting ends than on the previous album: co-produced by guitarist Mark Bowen and DJ Kenny Beats - who has already appeared on a track on Ultra Mono
and worked with Denzel Curry and Vince Staples among others - Crawler
sees IDLES go beyond their signature sound. There remains this energy of illuminated barbarians, halfway between drunken hooligans and earnestly annoying anarchists, this time exacerbated by profitable experimentations. Indeed, "MTT 420RR" begins the album with a slow, almost trip-hoppy intensity, taking advantage of the spaced-out production to let every tiny element of its composition slightly reshape the song's course. Named after the motorbike that nearly killed Talbot, this opener takes the band's trademark power and twists it in an almost intimate way, leaving Talbot asking if we're "ready for the storm" amidst a discordant crescendo.
Boi I was ready, but at the same time, I wasn't.
It's not like they performed a complete 360° and decided to play progressive post-reggae, nope; what they did was consolidate their core formula and embellish it with new ornaments, "MTT 420RR" constituting an indication of the album to come. Basically, it's same same IDLES but different yfm? "The Wheel" bears the band's typical galloping rhythm only broken up by already-ready-for-the-next-tour "Can I get a hallelujah?" line, "When the Lights Come On" is a gloomy 80s post-punk slow-burner, while "Car Crash" is an industrial piece whose smash of post-punk and grime is strongly reminiscent of Death Grips. "Crawl!" and "Stockholm Syndrome" do the job as more energetic tracks, with enough original elements - the rhythm guitar bringing power in the chorus coupled with the enthralling "I'm alriiiight" line in "Crawl!", and piercing post-punk riffs carried by powerful "Woohoo"s for "Stockholm Syndrome" - to surpass the unenviable status of sub-"Danny Nedelko". However, it's when the band stray the most from their formula that they touch grace: "MTT 420RR" of course, but especially "The Beachland Ballroom" and "Progress". The first track sees Talbot swap his punk growls for a melancholic crooner's vocal, only regaining his virulence on the final "Damage!" lines, while "Progress" is organised in a succession of repeated lyrics over haunting bleep bloops.
For all these successful experiments, some of them struggle to bring the same level of enthusiasm as the aforementioned ones. Interludes "Kelechi" and "Wizz" are respectively uninteresting and frustratingly short. "Meds" is an aight track in and of itself, but offers nothing more than IDLES except that dissonant sax - so Ultra Mono
- and that final "solo" closer to The Shaggs than The Fall. Generally speaking, the most basic tracks (insert Kristen Bell gif), like "The New Sensation" or "King Snake", are nothing more or less than IDLES covering IDLES.
In the end, Crawler
convinces the least when it tries to replicate what has already been perfected in the past, proving that this new direction is the right one. The experiments sound just
about right, neither too timid nor too radical, and constitute natural expansions of the band's original recipe. The bar has also been raised for Talbot, heavily criticised for his blunt proclamations of Ultra Mono
. Here, his candid lyrics deal with addictions and traumas with an approach that is more cathartic than voyeuristic - "Car Crash" remains the perfect example. There are still "message songs", but these are based on simple refrains - like "Despite it all, life is beautiful!" on "The End" - sounding like genuine rock refrains similar to Joy
's, not mock-political fartlines
. Bringing fun
back to the centre of its agenda, Crawler
is inventive and compelling at its best, failing only in rare places for lack of commitment to being consistently ambitious. And despite these lil missteps, the band manage to come up with their most consistent album yet.
Yes, the boiz are back.