In 2020 there’s always news, but at least there’s always Idles – a look ahead to the band’s third album

Idles in Brooklyn during their Joy As An Act Of Resistance world tour (Paul Bachmann / Live4ever)

Idles in Brooklyn during their Joy As An Act Of Resistance world tour (Paul Bachmann / Live4ever)

Late in the Friday evening of April 18th, 1930, those in the UK with the sufficient inclination and technological means to sit around a wireless set and learn of the latest world events were greeted by something quite unusual: they were told, presumably in that clipped, BBC Queen’s English accent, that there was no news.

Instead, families now sporting presumably bemused faces were treated to some light piano tickling before they, presumably, stood for the national anthem, said their prayers and prepared for a pleasant weekend pottering around the garden.

It’s something that hasn’t happened since, and something we can safely assert will never happen again; almost exactly 50 years after there was no news, there was the launch of CNN in America. By the end of the eighties, Sky News had followed in the UK, in time for the Gulf War to forever cement 24-hour rolling news as an unavoidable, if not increasingly lamentable, aspect of modern life.

Even so, if there was ever a year that needed 24-hour rolling news, it’s 2020 – a year which had already managed to cram in a final Brexit, devastating bush fires and Trump showboating in Asia before a global pandemic shutdown life as we know it, taking with it lives and livelihoods along the way. In some parts of the world, it’s still only just getting started.

Back in the halcyon days of 2018, when Brexit and Trump were the most pressing shared concern in our lives, a band from Bristol were gearing up to succeed a debut album with which they’d built a fierce reputation and even fiercer devotion. Brutalism had shown that band, namely Idles, to be of a rare breed.

By taking personal stories and memories – whether it be growing up on a dead end street, having their outlook on life changed by a friend confiding mental health struggles, or family ties to the NHS – and wrapping them up in melody and chaos, these became unifying songs of a kind which anyone, anywhere, could search through and find something which spoke to their life too.

When it arrived, the follow-up Joy As An Act Of Resistance didn’t so much prove to have its finger on the pulse as have a whopping great stethoscope on the heart, the band parading a genius knack for cutting clarity on just about every trial and travail which, both tangible and intangible, had been dominating the world it was released in to.

At the epicentre was Danny Nedelko, a track with an earworm chorus and scratchy, Pavement inspired guitar elevated to another plain entirely by the story of its titular hero. In one, three-minute alternative pop song, Idles had shown up the argument of generalisation for the evil that it is, boiling everything down to the story of an individual, by putting a face and a name to the pithy headlines which gleefully stoked fear and division.

A triumphant world tour later (and not long after said tour, its spirit and its message was encapsulated on the Beautiful Thing live album and film), earlier this month they went and did it again. With their audience in lockdown, the forthcoming third studio album’s lead single Mr. Motivator was premiered. What may have begun life as a fairly non-specific clarion call to carpe diem, with another earworm chorus, spoke instead to our existence in exile. Thinking about life before? Of taking the little things for granted? Of how you won’t repeat those mistakes when this is all over? Of diving into that lockdown haircut? You can do it. Yes you can. You’re Joe Cal-fucking-zaghe. You’ve gone too high on the sides…

The band, seemingly, had had another premonition in the studio and written a rallying cry for a time which hadn’t yet arrived. One track in, and they’d grabbed what it’s law to call ‘these strange and unpredictable times’ by the scruff of its strange and unpredictable neck.

So in turn, if there was ever a year that needed Idles, it’s 2020. Other artists are writing in lockdown, others are inviting fans to star in their videos, still others on Instagram desperately trying to show us how to get an F chord right. But if its lead single is anything to go by, it’ll be this band’s spooky sixth sense which makes their third album the chapter, verse and final word on an almighty annus horribilis.

These days there’s always news, but at least it’s Idles who always seem to be writing the headlines.

Dave Smith

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