Bristol punk outfit IDLES dial up the intensity and incite a revolution on their supercharged, politically-fueled third album, ‘Ultra Mono’.
Two years ago, Bristol punk outfit IDLES advised everyone to use Joy as an Act of Resistance, which was considered one of the – if not THE – best albums of the year. The record was less a political affair and more of a statement of staring straight into the eyes of grief, pain, and turmoil and overcoming them. It was a proclamation of resilience. Although the words of that record still resonate today, the quintet have dialed up the intensity and incite a revolution on their supercharged, politically-fueled, third LP, Ultra Mono.
The foci of the revolution, though, take on many forms. There are the obvious targets, as evidenced on the record’s furious, first two tracks. Opener “War” pounds like steel being hammered on an anvil with the pummeling rhythms and exploding guitar strikes. Through the fireworks, front-man Joe Talbot hollers:
“Send Sally into open fire
Send Johnny to the sandbox, baby
We’re gunning for the stone-faced liars”
Plodding more methodically yet with a similar fervor comes “Grounds”. But instead of taking arms, the band create an anthem for global justice movements. As a heavy guitar riff fills the air, he exclaims, “Do you hear that thunder? / That’s the sound of strength in numbers“. This is all done with the goal to “Unify”, which is repeated at the end. This ideal that peace and love can defeat violence and aggression is further accentuated on the gritty “Kill Them with Kindness”. As if he was speaking in the face of the (wannabe) dictators, Talbot unabashedly states, “I’m guessing it is hard for you to see, that-that-that-that empathy will cut down your throne”.
Whereas most protest albums will focus on the perpetrators and hawks, IDLES also focus their attention on the victims. The blistering “Anxiety” centers on the rise of mental illness as people attempt to survive in this new, conflict-inflicted world. When people need a lift, the government shuns them, as described on the feverish, disco-punk “Reigns”. As the song builds, Talbot addresses the incessant war on the lower class. “How does it feel to shank the working class into dust?”, he rhetorically asks to leaders who wanted to “drain the swamp” and whose goals are to create false realities via the “Model Village”.
Steeped in the false narratives of Brexit, “Model Village” is a propulsive rocker that concerns the unreal idealism that exists in the middle-class suburbs of the world. These family-oriented neighborhoods are fantasies where, as Talbot says with a searing refrain, people believe racism does not exist, the crime rate is low, and everyone has their white picket fence. Dig deeper into this manicured world, and one finds its residents indulging in illegal behavior while hate festers below the surface. They are just puppets in the big scheme, feeding the pockets of the Machiavellian politicians and business people who have sold them on this “idealism”.
These realities start with dangerous rhetoric and clichés, which the jittery and manic “Mr. Motivator” reveals. On this track, IDLES wage war on those tiresome phrases we’ve come to loathe and offer their own ridiculous notions:
“Like Kathleen Hanna with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy
Like David Attenborough clubbing seal clubbers with LeBron James
How d’you like them clichés?
Let’s seize the day
All hold hands
Chase the pricks away”
As obscene they may sound, many accept these as their codes of conduct. On the frenetic “Ne Touche Pas Moi”, IDLES shine the spotlight on how these words have led to the adoption of new weapons of war – sexual assault, abuse, and fear. The days of respect and where “no means no” have been buried in favor of catcalls and an endless wave of harassment and sexual objectification. The five-piece, though, remind us of the importance of “CONSENT” and that we can use our words and actions to reclaim who we are. To reclaim our bodies and souls.
Not all is bleak and morbid, however. The ultimate track, “Lovers”, is a reminder that the world is still full of people willing to fight the good fight. Where this message resounds to its fullest extent is on “A Hymn”. Unlike most of the album’s songs, IDLES keep the tone somber and stark. Despite not raising the volume, it still is a force of nature, as the harrowing atmosphere perfectly captures the longing feeling of “wanting to be loved” and to belong. This is the Bristolians’ sermon to the world, and even the most agnostic and apathetic will agree that we all share this desire to be a part of something. And we can be part of a revolution that unifies instead of divides.
IDLES are Joe Talbot (vocals), Mark Bowen (guitar, backing vocals), Slow Lee Kiernan (guitar), Dev Devonshire (bass, backing vocals), and Jon Beavis (drums).
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