Saturday 1 April 2017

Review of 'Brutalism' by Idles

What happened to all the rock bands that used to talk about real issues? Enter Idles.

Next time your old man goes on a rant about the current state of rock you can shut him up once and for all by showing him these Bristolian hardcore punks, although he’ll probably dismiss them as too nosiy – they’re a bit louder than Status Quo. Their new album Brutalism is what it says on the tin, sporting plenty of screeching, swearing, guitar squealing and other assorted sounds from the extreme end of the musical spectrum.

However, there’s brains to back the brawn. Pretty much every track on this record is a call-to-arms protest statement. No hot topic is left untouched, from class to gender to race to religion. It's music to get you picking up your torch and pitchfork, marching into your local council headquarters and signing a petition (because, you know, violence is bad).

Thankfully, Idles also understand that music has to be entertaining and that being just another bunch of preachy dudes with guitars won’t cut it, and so packed into these terse tunes there’s also a lot of humour and personal tragedy. ‘Well Done’s random assault on Mary Berry is a good example of this light-heartedness, whilst ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ is a hilarious attack on those that ignorantly attack art: ‘Did you see that selfie what Francis Bacon did? Don’t look nothing like him – what a fucking div’. The likes of ‘Mother’ meanwhile seem to be very personal, frontman Joe Talbot starkly screaming angrily at how his now-deceased mother had to work ‘seventeen hours, seven days a week’ due to a lack of government support. 

Not all of the album is so direct however, and much of the messages are left up to interpretation, Idles not quite letting you know which side they’re on. I still can’t tell if ‘Faith in the City’ is an attack on religious supporters or a plea to let people have what little belief they deserve. This combined with Talbot’s emotionally-unstable yo-yo persona, give the whole album a brilliant suspense. You’re never quite sure when the band are going to fly off the handle and say something outrageous. They could target anyone. Even Mary Berry wasn't safe.

And yet at the same time you know that all this erratic behaviour is all ingeniously calculated. The instrumentation - made up of demented tremolo-picked axework, meaty bass and razor-sharp percussion - is as tight and tuneful as it is rugged. Meanwhile, when Talbot isn’t screaming his organs out or slurring slovenly like a drunkard, there are glimpses of true melodicism in his voice such as on downtempo closer ‘Slow Savage’.

Deep beneath the punky rawness, Idles are clearly a talented bunch of musicians that can actually sing and play their instruments. They may be operating rather brutishly with a rusty kitchen knife for a scalpel, but their ability to pull it off with surgical precision and aptitude makes up for it, writing some of the catchiest hooks, tightest rhythms and wittiest lyrics you’re likely to hear on a rock record in 2017.