By Matty Hume
In an interview with the Guardian, Idles frontman Joe Talbot clearly declared he’s “not the next fucking Billy Bragg.” In a lot of ways, he’s absolutely right. He won’t tell you who to vote for or which colour to champion, but he’ll certainly tell you when you’re being an idiot. At the same time, the Bristol-made punk outfit is sewn to politics at the hip, albeit thrashing to break free. Joined by Adam Devonshire, Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan and Jon Beavis, Talbot and Idles have a lot to scream at you about the world we share while you lose your kicks in the mosh pit. And much like their pub-rattling 2017 debut, Brutalism, their latest riff-a-bout is a diatribe against the day-to-day saturation of identity politics and society’s penchant for letting Idiocracy take the reigns.
Thirteen fully-realized tracks culminate into a certified staple of punk rock canon in Joy As An Act Of Resistance. Considering the critical and popular success of Brutalism, it’s doubtful a single, pissy review would have surfaced even if Idles decided to double down on the debut’s formula of relentlessly noisy post-punk supported by a foundation of tinnitus-inducing repetition. But, sonically, Resistance features an Idles looking to light any critic’s genre labels on fire with a shitty Bic lighter. Each track is a distinct composition showcasing a well-kept library of influences and array of emotions without ever losing a biting edge.
“Colossus” opens the record with a microcosm of the variation to follow as distant percussion rim-shots build under a low-tempo tone of messy distortion. Talbot’s vocals cry out in harsh vibrato somewhere between Thurston Moore and Lee Ving, while an anxiety-inducing crescendo tears into a hardcore barrage that seemlessly manifests as anthemic barstool-punk in the blink of an ‘Oi!’. “Never Fight A Man With A Perm” immediately follows as a digitally-poppy, post-punk jam that sounds designed for a Guy Ritchie soundtrack in a retro-futuristic dystopia. But while the instrumentation scratches every itch in your record collection, Talbot’s no-bullshit lyricism is always front and center, calling-out every possible corner of public discourse that melted your brain the last time you opened Twitter.
“I’m Scum” is a traditional punk offering straight out of the anarchy era, focusing on the use of identity politics as a personality substitute and the hills where fellow folk fall dead for the sake of ideology. “Danny Nedelko” centers on immigration, and further, hammers home the clear message that people are people regardless of whatever falls out of a bigot’s rotten brain — complete with a chorus destined to be belted with abandon, shoulder-to-shoulder with friends. A dark and stressful tone gives “June” the feeling of a dreadful daydream through progressive instrumentation and an unmistakably post-rock attitude. “Samaritans” takes aim at destructive masculinity and its conditioning and normalization, before “Television” laments the crippling effect of physical standards caused by pop-culture and social media. Its chorus is a hypnotic injection of a simple modern rebellion: “I go outside and feel so free, because I smash mirrors and fuck TV.” “Great” is another tightly composed bite of chaos with a clear message, delivered with palpably-annoyed snark in lyrics like, “Blighty wants his country back, 50-inch screen in his cul-de-sac.”
While every song wastes zero time getting to the punchline, waving bloodied fists at all the pissoffs that come with being remotely aware of planet earth, Resistance is far from a collection of poetry. Talbot’s polemics are simple, obvious and as subtle as a declaration of war. But that also makes them swiftly relatable and immediately understood. Idles aren’t trying to make you think, they’re just smacking you on the back of the head with an open hand if you happen to be one of the reasons these songs exist. The record is a technical improvement on the strong foundation laid by Brutalism, branching into a wealth of punk evolution and never using speed as a crutch. More than anything else, it’s anthemic protest punk for the old soul in a new world.Idles, Joy As An Act Of Resistance, Partisan Records, Record Review