I remember that first term in halls at Nottingham University; I kept hearing this rabid noise coming from a neighbouring room. It really bothered me at first – what is this shit? I mean really…there was some Stone Roses, which was all tuneful and mildly revolutionary to a late teenager who hadn’t actually grown up with The Beatles. This other stuff though, what was that all about? Raging guitars, huge cavernous drums and wild screaming….
I discovered soon enough that I’d stumbled on the Holy Grail or something similar: that noise was ‘Surfer Rosa’ by Pixies which remains in my all time Top 10 to this very day. It proved to be a punch to the ribs whilst teasing fitfully at my ‘down belows’ with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Fast forward through almost 30 years and I’m starting off 2019 craving a little something for the weekend and beyond. Friends, including my esteemed editor and various members of Stella Martyr, were regularly banging on about this band called IDLES. A play on Idols perchance? I was mildly interested but didn’t give them the time then – too wrapped up in the casual genius of J Cole and SZA at the time; but I’m always up for a gander at the new and not so usual: can't stand still for too long you know, need something alternative in my listening life. So, in a short span, I discover a band that have, within one full play of a CD, given me the same feeling as that day I truly met and experienced Pixies: overcome with a fizzing, outer space visceral feeling – that whole body reaction where entirely unexpected tears prick at your eyes and you do not feel ashamed in any way, no not at all.
Now IDLES are two albums and one EP deep and I’m still at a loss to explain my unabashed devotion for their devastating beauty. This is LOUD, RUTHLESS, EXPERIENTIAL, HECTORING honesty people. It’s surrounded itself with the stuff of life – illness, death, alcoholism, male rage, impotence and JOY – yeah, most of all JOY!!!
Scanning YouTube brought me to a performance on a Seattle radio station from October 2018 where lead singer Joe Talbot opened up about the band’s personality, in between searing versions of tracks from that 2nd album – ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ [one of the best album titles of recent times, to be honest]. Whilst acknowledging that the debut ‘Brutalism’ made them appear like an ‘angry man band’, they had been trying to ‘change the narrative and become mindful, better people’ by being more ‘open, honest, loving and fun.’ To be honest, ‘Brutalism’ is a bolt of lightning to the rather flabby spine of modern British music with its sarcastic references to Bovis homes, Tarquins and Mary Berry - all within the first three songs. ‘Joy’ maybe displays a more controlled fury at its heart but you can hardly complain when the songs and lyrics are this bloody inspirational.
In the same interview, Joe wanted to reject negativity and embrace compassion, saying to the band’s ever increasing audience ‘we are not alone’ and ‘in order to fall backwards, you need to be caught…’ It is this searingly positive attitude that shines through in every frenzied chord and thundering drum peal. Take lyrical snippets like “Let’s drink to the summertime until we turn blue” and the frankly hilarious ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ with hard-edged quips such as “Did you see that drawing what Basquiat done? / Looks like it was drawn by my 4 year old son”, all delivered in a D Boon meets Rollins meets Cobain howl, infused with the former’s keen sense of humour and caustic political nous.
Then the bastards go and floor the listener with the tragedy of ‘June’ and its heart-breaking refrain of ‘Baby shoes, for sale, never worn’, reflecting in a painfully honest way upon his own child who died at birth. This is brave music, music that vaults over every day mediocrity whilst openly celebrating the brilliant possibilities of breaking away from the same by just being true to yourself. This is set against the gnarly ‘Exeter’ where names are reeled off like a list of casualties ‘in a bar for a bar fight’, its tensile spring, coiled to strike the unwary onlooker. You really need to COMMIT to these albums. They are so worth your time.
You can hear the progression, physically. ‘Brutalism’ is a pure assault on the senses, whilst ‘Joy…’ controls the anger a little, lives up to its pop smarts and comes away smiling with a set of bruised knuckles. Like Dave Myers from the Martyr, Joe might look like he might want to punch your lights out but actually would rather just give you a bloody enormous hug. This band IDLES will - and are already – attracting a huge, ever-increasing following.
This is music impossible to pin down – yeah, it’s PUNK. It has shades of Fugazi, OI bands, it ‘wants to be vulnerable’, and it is committed, like really committed. This is a very good thing. Its sense of humour is full on, scabrous and – that word again – honest. I mean if you don't like shouting over heavy bass and hard-edged guitar riffs then it may not be for you. However, if you want an explosion of optimism and a level of intensity akin to witnessing a car crash where no one is badly hurt but the cars are irrevocably mangled, this BEAUTIFUL NOISE is for you and your friends and everyone you might ever meet.
Press these 2 albums into hot little hands and just tell them to experience this – it is potentially, if you just let it in to your heart, head and being, completely life-changing – and this comes from a man nearing 50 years old. As for the new material, slated for 2020, that can only increase the excitement levels. Music can surprise you – like Joe intones in ‘Great’ – ‘change isn’t a crime.’ What he means is: it’s fine to look at things differently whenever you want, keep it fresh, look for a different perspective. Here’s one for you – as refreshing and uplifting as a breaking wave, over and over again, pummelling you into grateful submission from this most emotionally open and generous of bands. Liberation for all – dig in!!!