Post-punk provocateurs Idles get less political and more personal on their fourth album.
Idles first grabbed my attention back in 2016 when they dropped 'Well Done'. Their shouty noisy sound and confrontational-but-comical
lyrics felt truly exciting and I was immediately hooked. Two flawless rock albums followed, Brutalism and Joy As An Act of Resistance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t
a huge fan of their third record Ultra Mono – while the angry lurching
riffs slapped, the cliché-ridden rudimentary lyrics let it down. It felt like
the band were jumping on hot button topics without taking the time to really
Now, on their fourth record Crawler, Idles have decided to reinvent themselves.
It’s not a major reinvention – they're still yelling over noisy guitars. They have however largely scrapped the political lyrics.
Instead, Joe Talbot has turned his gaze inwards, exploring his personal
struggles with alcoholism. There are still repetitive hooks such as ‘medicate,
meditate, medicate’ and ‘if you see me down on my knees/please do not
think that I pray’, but they’re much more nuanced and moving than simply screaming ‘an-xi-etyyyyyy!!!’ at the listener as on Ultra Mono. I also think
it’s clever how he uses his experience of being in a car crash as a metaphor
for his addiction.
While a much more personal album, the band haven’t gone
completely apolitical. Neither have they lost their sense of fun. ‘The New
Sensation’ is pretty much Idles’ own version of a dance anthem with lines like
‘shake you tiny tooshie like you don’t give a shit’. At first, I
dismissed it as a generic ‘Chained-to-the-rhythm’ style wake-up-sheeple track –
but the ‘retrain as a dancer’ line made me realise it was actually a much
wittier dig at Rishi Sunak’s stupid ‘retrain’ comments last year.
Musically, the band are still as raw and noisy. However,
there’s a lot more experimentation and range this time around, both vocally and
instrumentally. My two favourite highlights include ‘Car Crash’ in which Joe delivers
intensifying semi-rapped verses over some of the band’s most abrasive guitars
to date and the contrastingly pretty ‘Progress’ in which Joe’s singing is
sweeter and more vulnerable than ever before accompanied by some melodic
creative instrumentation (the change-up midway is magnificent). There are admittedly
moments such as ‘King Snake’ where I felt the band retreated into slightly samey
territory. 30 second track ‘Wizz’ is also a bit pointless, even if it is a
surprise to hear Idles venturing out into grindcore. However, the majority of
the songs on Crawler sound fresh and fleshed-out.
All in all, it feels like the band have moved away from
their punky roots on this album into new exciting territory. Bowen’s guitarwork
is a lot more creative and Joe has developed his voice beyond his trademark bellow.
Meanwhile, the lyrics are some of Idles’ most intimate and intricate so far. Idles
have me fully on board again and I can’t wait to hear what they put out next.