What if a record was really a conversation? What if it was a manifesto? What if, on the very first listening, you felt like you could write five thousand words about it without metaphorically drawing breath?
Britain’s recent socio-cultural history is a fascinating one of the self – self interest, harm and loathing. Given that politically the musical response to all this had been at best soporific (Billy Bragg, please), the emergence of ranting polemicists Sleaford Mods was a welcome response to our collective stupidity. And yet, whilst it’s good to feel better about yourself by being convinced you’re better than someone else, the pointing and staring which are the duo’s weapons of choice eventually become futile, our ingrained desire to seek status through ridicule wasted after the first laugh.
We’re desperate. The time for bold gestures of salvation is here, and in response to this moral re-constipation, with Joy As An Act Of Resistance Idles have made possibly the bravest record of the decade, a quart of piss in the petrol tank of 2018 normality in Albion, a theatre of the absurd buttressed with tragedy and with a cast recruited from battered survivors and the precious lunatic fringe.
This Sceptred Isle feels like a cage; it seems absurd, for instance, that 21st century performers could be seen as painting a target on their collective backs for writing about the strength and kindness of immigrants as here on Danny Nedelko, but our so called civilised society makes it so. Equally, in normal chatter you would say to your brother, co-worker or bus driver that speaking openly about the negative impact of a masculinity now being defined by porn and dietary supplements on young men is a good thing, but yet you wince a little listening to Samaritans thinking about how the message will be received by the UK’s legion of faceless, soul sucking trolls.
The good news is that in Joe Talbot, Idles have a frontman who shits where he eats, someone who comes from addiction and bad choices, and all the guilt and fists banging against doors, and hair pulling and long vacant looks into the mirror. On Gram, he meets the ‘savage arrogance and lacklustre wit’ of drugs head on, the unstoppable force against the immovable object, a courageous, awkwardly uncalculated double line of personal truth to snort.
Unfiltered, Talbot’s skill is grabbing the listener and making connections; you can’t resent him for it, only admire the courageousness of June, on which he starkly draws the veil of grief back on the death of his daughter and leaves himself as vulnerably open as a stranger can be to another stranger.
In the grain and underneath the fused, at times edge grinding noise, Joy As An Act Of Resistance is mostly about love – indeed, the band’s hyper obsessive fanbase uses the phrase All Is Love as a term of mutual identification and synonymity. Learning about it as more than a word though is the album’s BIG IDEA; the singer’s experiences have lent him perspective enough to realise that being able to value yourself in your own image is vital, a preservation order on your soul recognised on Television, although the call to mercy has run out by the lolloping dissolution of Rottweiler, a ragged slab of invective aimed deservedly at the nation’s tabloid press lizards, a ball-licking pack who’d probably be happy toting the mantra All Is Hate.
None of them were watching about a million years ago when Idles released their first album Brutalism, although normal people were and they adored it. Tackling modern foibles from materialism to depression – two sides arguably of the same coin – a stoic precision made it the year’s most exhilarating release but, as Talbot now admits, the view was of someone outside looking in, any of the spirit locked down by passivity and the torpor of observation.
Joy As An Act Of Resistance was made by the same people, but that’s where most of the similarities end. Idles are naked on it, five men who have nothing left to hide but the insanity of happiness, people as musicians, musicians as people, all made from the same blood, bone and tears as everyone else. There are a million words you could write about it and there will be, but only one is really appropriate.
That word? Hope.