The album that defined British punk in 2017 for so many was Idles’ Brutalism. The fact that it was as caustic and unflinchingly honest and critical about the socio-political quagmire that country finds itself drowning in was one thing, but what shocked more than anything was how far-reaching the praise stemmed. For a band so deeply rooted in classic British hardcore punk and post-punk (even if frontman Joe Talbot is quick to dispute the latter), the mainstream coverage and lauding as an indie breakthrough that was thrown their way showed a band whose ability to forge a positive change was actually being realised, not just hanging over their heads as the nebulous concept of “potential”. And of course, striking while the iron is hot in a situation like this makes all too much sense, and given that there’s hardly a shortage of topics to volley some spittle-flecked ire towards, Joy As An Act Of Resistance looks to swiftly carry on where its predecessor left off.
And while that’s true to an extent, it’s hard to ignore something of a shift in perspective that Idles have undergone, underlined by the contrast of language in both of their albums’ titles. Where Brutalism focused on dismantling and dissecting societal ills with force and quick wit in equal measure, Joy As An Act Of Resistance is quicker to embrace senses of togetherness and positivity that’ll ultimately prevail against anything else. As such, it definitely feels like an album driven more by emotion that previous efforts were, tackling topics like the representation of masculinity and immigration, and how people should be judged on character rather than outdated norms and thinly-veiled stereotypes. And of course, in typical Idles fashion, the whole thing is caked in a glorious amount of snark and instantly quotable lines that only further highlight how stupid these ideologies actually are. As such, you get tracks targeting overzealous Brexiteers whose motives are driven by racism and xenophobia on Danny Nedelko and Great, and middle-aged men still living by and promoting toxic masculinity on Never Fight A Man With A Perm and Samaritans, a thread that culminates in the bracing appreciation of male platonic friendship and understanding on Cry To Me. It’s all as loud and lairy as possible, but with a crucial sensitivity and understanding that Idles are unafraid to wear on their sleeves; as the lynchpin line of the album on I’m Scum says, “This snowflake’s an avalanche”.
Not only is that a great line on it’s own, but it fully captures the pace and power that Idles are operating at, both in a larger context (let’s not forget how much mainstream press they’ve been getting), but also in the context of the album. There’s such a simplicity in the thick, winding basslines of Danny Nedelko and Television that only work even better with Talbot’s intelligence and witticisms, and even on a track like Colossus which, for the most part, is played with the thicker, foreboding post-punk influence, that clawing sense of unhinged dread that makes Talbot such a compelling frontman comes through in spades. Of course, not everything works – the general formlessness of June is hard to get along with, and the repetitious, overly simplistic Gram Rock is far too much like a Slaves song – but considering this is the first time in two albums where Idles have really had an outright bad song, they can be cut some slack here.
And that’s mostly because, overall, Joy As An Act Of Resistance is a great album, and one that fully justifies the importance of this band that’s been sold time and time again. And that’s an important statement in itself; bands may be offered that tag, but few ever live up to it, and Idles alone are streets ahead of the pack with this album. Even better, there’s barely even a hint of slowing down or spinning wheels to be found, and instead sees them storming forth on all cylinders and continuing to do so for a long time to come. Above all though, if this album proves anything, it’s that, of the very few vital bands that are currently around, Idles are right at the top of the pack.
For fans of: Preoccupations, Protomartyr, Metz
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ by Idles is out now on Partisan Records.