IDLES have so much love to give that it’s coming out in a bone-crushing hug of noise. Frontman Joe Talbot’s agonies, vulnerabilities, scars, fuck-ups and political angers sit atop swelling guitar sound and powerful drums, his lyrics leading Joy as an Act of Resistance along to become the most infectious, vulnerable and cathartic album of the year.
In a world that is falling apart, IDLES have identified that feeling you get when, despite the pain, you know everything is going to be alright. They’ve taken that feeling - that terror and that determination - and they’ve turned it into sound.
Album opener ‘Colossus’ is an ideal starting point, taking the band from the pure anger of first album Brutalism into something softer. On it, Talbot cries the angry tears of a man who feels the relentless tide of life and its difficulties. He pauses, considers, and changes tack, dancing like he doesn't care in a hailstorm of cathartic noise. And herein lies the overall effect of this album: acknowledging that there is enormous pain, and that there is also beautiful joy.
The most exquisite agony on the album comes through on ‘June’, which hears a mournful harmonium give way to a whining gail of guitar as Talbot howls as if through gritted teeth about the recent death of his baby daughter. Though both physically and conceptually at its centre, the rest of the album focuses not on ruinous grief itself, but on getting through it.
A key aspect of joy is, of course humour, and IDLES flex this particular muscle on several tracks. A point of great success on self-released debut Brutalism, their absurdist, pop-culture driven comedy has evolved into something even more silly, self-deprecating and enjoyable. “You’re not a man, you’re a gland”, barks Talbot, perched atop the frenzied, mounting crescendo of the instruments that seem to surround him on ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm.’ The self-deprecation continues on ‘Gram Rock,’ which takes a look at the chaos (both lyrical and musical) that ensues when a man who has no business taking cocaine…takes cocaine.
Amid the swelling strings of two guitars, a bass guitar and a set of drums, instruments take turns to ring out clear and powerful. On the incredibly catchy, taboo-annihilating ‘Samaritans’ it’s the tom-heavy drums that forge a path through the chaos, appearing above the parapet of sound with such force that it’s easy to imagine drum sticks aplenty were snapped all over Monnow Valley studio during the recording process.
Heavy bass lines abound on political bangers ‘I’m Scum’, ‘Danny Nedelko’ and ‘Great’, all of which thrum with impressive choruses that address contemporary issues like immigration, Brexit and the ‘snowflake’ generation.
On extremely strong ‘Television’ (in which God is a ‘she’) fingers strum furious ups and downs on guitars that reach a frantic and heightened pitch. Above waves of industrial, rumbling, instruments, Talbot’s booming voice demands that we love ourselves.
What all of these songs have in common, though their subject matter changes, is the feeling behind it: IDLES want you to keep going. On perfectly-chosen Solomon Burke cover ‘Cry To Me’, they put their noisy, cathartic stamp on soul, growling, rather than singing: “I will hold you and tell you everything’s alright.” In the album’s closing words on ‘Rottweiler,’ Talbot’s far-off yells ring out at us: “Keep going! Keep fucking going!”
Remember when Oasis told us not to put our lives in the hands of a rock ’n’ roll band? Well this is a band that’s making it safe again.
Joy as an Act of Resistance is a manifesto for baring your agonies, vulnerabilities, scars, fuck-ups, and and political angers, in order to heal. But, as its torrent of noise makes sure, it isn’t so neat as to be a manifesto. It’s more real than that. It’s how life feels. It goes and it goes and it goes, and we can’t stop it. But we can resist it. With honesty. With fragility. With humour. With joy.