If last year’s Brutalism acted as a battering ram for Idles to force themselves into the public’s consciousness, Joy As An Act Of Resistance will see them colonise it. The Bristol five-piece have returned with a sequel and response to Brutalism’s anger and frustration, and whereas their last record often squared up to misogyny, this one spits in the face of toxic masculinity.
The brutish, steely power of Colossus makes for a beast of an opener and illustrates Idles’ ability to be rabidly virile musically while lyrically berating laddish behaviour and the noxious expectations men are expected to live up to. Samaritans perhaps best demonstrates they way the band often ape precisely what they aim to tear apart with a beginning that barks commands that men are subject to daily: “Man up, sit down, chin up, pipe down… grow some balls.” With ease front man Joe Talbot reveals the inherent flaws of repression and unrealistic levels of resilience. In short, “This is why you’ll never see your father cry,” he sings, and suggests these are contributory reasons for why suicide rates amongst young men are so desperately high. This is an album that fearlessly vents.
An emotional balance is struck with a number of tracks on the record where Talbot digs deep personally, from the self-explanatory Love Song to the devastating June. The latter is a song written after his daughter Agatha was stillborn, and the simplicity and unflinching nature of his approach cuts to the quick with shattering effect: “Baby’s shoes for sale/never worn.” In divulging such personal and traumatic events in his life he practices what he is preaching. All of which makes an unlikely cover of Solomon Burke’s Cry To Me make absolute sense as a less than gentle push to let it all out.
Conversely, call a song Never Fight A Man With A Perm and you can rest assured that everyone’s aware your sense of humour is also very much intact. And rather than undermine many of the important issues the album raises it actually strengthens their message and avoids a preachy tone that more often than not is a turn-off. On tracks like Danny Nedelko and Great, open sores like Brexit and immigration also loom large, and are equally subject to Talbot’s acerbic wit: “Blighty wants his country back/50 inch screen in his cul-de-sac.” His gift is his wit and grace in the face of a culture that could turn the rosiest of outlooks sour. Here joy is used as ammo.
Idles offer so much more than mere spit and bile. The nuance of what’s on offer on this record contributes to the rich contemporary loosely threaded punk scene that has produced bands like Protomartyr, Priests and Algiers. Much like their last album, Joy As An Act Of Resistance suggests Idles aren’t a particularly progressive band musically, but their sound is one with the absolute sincerity of their exploration of our culture and politics. And in Joe Talbot, they have a front man unafraid to point the finger at himself as well as others, and that is progress.