MUSIC IDLES’ anger is oddly uplifting
ogistically it doesn’t make a lot of sense: a revved-up post-everything punk unit tackling racism, self-loathing, male toxicity, alcoholism, and other heavy issues in a way that manages to be uplifting.
But that’s exactly what England’s IDLES do on Joy as an Act of Resistance, a record that, for all its palpable rage and justified anger, takes the position that maybe the world isn’t as fucked as it seems.
Reached at an Atlanta hotel at the beginning of a North American tour, thoughtful and eloquent singer Joe Talbot has no problem articulating the thinking behind the quartet’s second full-length, released in late August. After years of being angry and afraid to open up to those around him, the frontman began to wonder if maybe there wasn’t a better way. The first step was therapy.
“Really early on in counselling, the idea of loneliness came up,” Talbot explains. “My counsellor pointed it out. He said, ‘You seem like you were a very lonely child and adult.’ And that’s something that I always felt—that I was alone in the world, even though I was surrounded by wonderful people.”
The singer notes that things never went off the rails to where he bottomed out. His life began to turn around when he met his fiancée, who suggested he seek professional help.
“I’ve always had a job, was always employed,” Talbot says. “My problem was that I was never making myself vulnerable. Never sharing the turmoil, my inner feelings—anything, really. I was, for lack of a better word, stoic, to the complete detriment of my sanity. In my teens and early 20s I was, excuse the expression, fucking mental, doing all sorts of horrible things. Not treating myself with any respect, and, sadly, not other people either.”
Joy as an Act of Resistance is, then, a record that’s in some ways about atonement, but not in a maudlin or selfflagellating way. Instead, Talbot and his bandmates—bassist Adam Devonshire, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, and drummer Jon Beavis—set out to inspire and uplift, even while acknowledging the darkness.
And Christ knows there’s been plenty of darkness in Talbot’s life, his mom dying while he was making Brutalism, and his daughter arriving stillborn as IDLES was becoming a serious thing. That latter tragedy is addressed in Joy as an Act of Resistance’s harrowing “June”, where over black-mass synths and a telltale-heart drumbeat, the frontman starts out with the soul-ripping lines “Dreams can be so cruel sometimes/ I swear I kissed your crying eyes.”
IDLES’ great trick on the album, though, is dealing with serious topics without coming across as rage-filled misanthropes. Consider the propulsive pro-immigration anthem “Danny Nedelko”, named for a Ukrainian immigrant close to the band, in which Talbot howls “Islam didn’t eat your hamster/change isn’t a crime.”
The singer lays out all the shortcomings of modern men in the pub singalong “I’m Scum”, and shows he’s not afraid of a good cry with the rockabilly-tinged rave-up “Samaritans”.
Ultimately, what you hear is a band that sounds like it’s thrilled to find itself with a platform, one that was built with a universally strong reception for IDLES’ fantastically angry 2017, debut Brutalism.
“One of the contrasts between us and other bands—especially the bands that we looked up to in the early to late 2000s—is that we haven’t had any handouts or hype or money thrown at us at any point,” Talbot says. “We are consistently hard-working and are very grateful for where we are. Gratitude manifests itself in more hard work. We don’t sit around congratulating ourselves for all the good things that we’ve done. We’re more interested in repaying our audiences, as well as our management and our label, by making better music and becoming better artists.”
And for Talbot, a better person who is no longer afraid to make connections. It’s no accident that IDLES have been lauded for a live show where it’s obvious that the band’s members love each other as much as they do their fans on the dance floor.
“With this band, we’ve realized that the bigger the platform you have, the more opportunity you have to make a difference,” Talbot says. “We’ve all become better people as we’ve become more vulnerable, and people are giving that back. All we’re doing is trying to open a dialogue. We’re not more important than people in the room—in fact, those people are more important than us because if they don’t pay to see us we’re fucking nothing. On a basic, humane level, what a beautiful thing that they are lending their ear to us. When you get that exchange between band and audience, you end up with a ball of fucking energy.”