Together, Slaves and Idles have revived old-skool UK punk. They’ve taken the brains of The Clash, the teeth of the Sex Pistols and the funny bone of Ian Dury and they’ve Frankensteined them all together into a monstrous new creation. Meanwhile, their political lyrics take aim at the 21st Century world attacking everyone from London commuters to Mary Berry.
On their latest albums, both bands have decided to get less angry and more upbeat. Positive punk usually isn’t my thing – I prefer a bit of anger and confrontation - but this is Slaves and Idles, so I knew that despite the cheery album titles they couldn’t have turned into complete hippies. As it turns out, both records are fantastic. But which band really does it the best? I decided to pit both punk albums against one another.
Let’s start with the new Slaves album Acts of Fear And Acts Of Love. Still packing the same primal drums and raw riffs, the Tunbridge Wells duo have swapped out the screech-along hooks of their last album Take Control for more Britpop-inspired vocal harmonies. The result is a more melodic album, although still very rough and ready – even on the most poppy track ‘Cut and Run’ there’s still a healthy dose of feedback squealing to keep things from sounding too polished. Meanwhile, the lyrics do seem to be a little less angry – whilst the band still take the time to lambast social media braggers on ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’ and politicians on ‘Bugs’, they end the album by dismissing hatred and promoting love: ‘there’s no such thing as hate, just acts of fear and love’.
As for Bristol band Idles, their new album Joy As An Act of Resistance sees them rocking the same scuzzy bass-guitar-heavy sound as on their debut. It’s a lot less clean than Slaves’ latest album, but not entirely sloppy either as the driving Swans-like build-up of opener ‘Colossus’ shows. The lyrics are where Idles show their newfound positivity – in his slovenly snarled delivery, Joe Talbot celebrates the joys of immigration on ‘Danny Nedelko’ and tells body-conscious listeners to ‘love yourself’ on ‘Television’. It’s jarring at first to hear him offering sincere positivity, considering how cynical the band’s debut album Brutalism was and considering how harsh his vocals are, but it doesn’t feel entirely wrong either. Besides, not all the hostility is gone and tracks like ‘Samaritans’ - a dissection of toxic masculinity - are still delivered with anger.
When it comes to writing catchy songs, both bands still know how to pull out an anthemic hook. Both bands seem to like spelling things out – in the case of Slaves it’s ‘M-A-G-N-O-L-I-A’ on their tongue-and-cheek ode to magnolia paint, whilst Idles chant ‘G-R-E-A-T’ which explores the mindset of Brexiteers. Both bands also know how to balance earnestness and humour.
Overall, Slaves offer more straightforward fun. With the exception of grungy interlude ‘Daddy’, there aren’t many left-field detours on Acts of Fear And Love, which is probably the album’s only downside – as fun as the songs are to rock out to, it feels like it’s missing a sense of surprise.
Idles by contrast are entirely unpredictable. There are moments when they go entirely loopy, such as nonsensical ‘Gram Rock’ which sees Joe yelling ‘ten points to Gryffindor!’ repeatedly for no reason. Meanwhile, on the flipside, Idles are also able to get incredibly personal and serious – ‘June’ took me entirely by surprise, serving as a tortured tribute to his still born daughter that sees him wailing ‘baby shoes for sale: never worn’ agonisingly over and over again. It’s this versatility that is the reason Idles take the crown.
Acts of Fear And Love by Slaves ★★★★☆
Joy As An Act Of Resistance by Idles ★★★★★