A complex fourth album that could divide their fans
Vicky Greer
14:58 8th November 2021

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Post-punk has always been a genre that only vaguely fitted IDLES, used only because it was a convenient way to compare them to their contemporaries. In some ways, CRAWLER is the closest that the Bristol five-piece have come to the now-overused label, but the album is, at its core, unpredictable.

They’ve had a lot of labels over the years—post-punk, punk-rock, post-Brexit hardcore—but in true IDLES fashion, they reject every category thrown at them, still ready to surprise you four albums in.

The first surprise comes in the form of album opener ‘MTT 420 RR’, a sharp turn away from the fuming ‘War’ that kicked off last year’s Ultra Mono. Instead, we have a fiercely intimate song in which you can hear every tiny movement of the instruments used. This raw production style, from Kenny Beats and IDLES guitarist Mark Bowen, makes you feel like the action is happening right in front of you.

CRAWLER is especially striking for its lyrical style. Bold, explicit social commentary has been swapped out for more muted, introspective songwriting—no surprise really, given the year that we’ve had. It requires you to dig a little deeper than you might be used to with an IDLES album, reaching a brutal peak with ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, a track which is reminiscent of showstoppers like ‘Mother’ and ‘Reigns’ that came before.

The masterpiece of CRAWLER is without a doubt its lead single, ‘The Beachland Ballroom’. We’re so used to hearing Joe Talbot’s now-famous snarling vocals that to hear him sing is the most pleasant surprise of the album. While most of CRAWLER is characterised by a complex and rather rough sound, ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ appears almost out of nowhere in all of its ‘60s, soulful glory, by far the most remarkable on the whole album. Other musical comparisons can be found in the Bob Vylan-esque ‘Car Crash’ and then on ‘When The Lights Come On’, which ventures further into dark ‘80s alternative with half-spoken lyrics.

Towards the end of the album, we come across an intriguing little trilogy in the form of ‘Kelechi’, ‘Progress’ and ‘Wizz’. ‘Kelechi’ is the first 30-second interlude on the album, a low-key moment that gently leads you into the next ‘Progress’, which is perhaps the most surprising track from this outing. With vocals that float around like you’re drifting in and out of a comfortable sleep and laid-back, glitchy musical effects, ‘Progress’ is positively dreamy—and that’s not a word I ever thought would describe IDLES. Then, when you least expect it, ‘Wizz’ comes crashing in with a reminder that IDLES are still a full-throttle rock band. Every time you think you’ve got CRAWLER figured out, IDLES are one step ahead of you.

CRAWLER is by far the most complex record that we’ve heard from IDLES; a complexity which will surely divide their fans. If you’re an IDLES fan for their massive, tongue-in-cheek anthems like ‘Danny Nedelko’, ‘Model Village’ or ‘Love Song’ you’ll likely find that something is missing from the new album. But if you’ve been waiting for a darker, more introspective evolution from IDLES that has previously popped up in tracks like ‘A Hymn’, then this is the album for you.

CRAWLER arrives 12 November via Partisan Records.

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