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 explore them.
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.