Wednesday 6 March 2024

Review of 'Tangk' by Idles

Idles swap angry punky protest songs for mellow experimental love songs.

All rock bands eventually go through their ‘mellow out’ phase. This is often the point when I lose interest in them. For example, I completely rejected The Arctic Monkeys once they turned into a lounge music act. U2’s pop rock phase in the 90s similarly bores me. However, every now and again, a band like Radiohead proves that you can mellow out in an interesting way simply by getting experimental and weird.

Thankfully, Idles have taken the Radiohead approach to mellowing out. Quite literally, it seems – they’ve hired Kid A producer Nigel Godrich to engineer their latest album, Tangk. The album opens with some speedy twinkling piano arpeggios and stuttering guitar tremolo effects on ‘IDEA 1’ and it ends with spacey synth pulses and a sax solo on ‘Monolith’. In between are plenty of other weird and wonderful ideas that I’d never imagined I’d ever hear on an Idles album. Some of it’s not as developed as it could be, but it’s excitingly unpredictable.

It's worth noting that Kenny Beats co-produces the album. The hip hop producer also helped produce the band’s last album Crawler, which was the start of the band’s transformation into a mellower band, and here his presence can be felt even more – the bass and percussion feel really punchy on more aggressive tracks ‘Gift Horse’ and ‘Gratitude, and I love the looped sounds all over this album.

Another notable change is less shouting and more singing. Other UK post punk bands like Shame and Squid have been recently going in this direction too. I didn’t think Joe Talbot had it in him to pull off almost a whole album of melodic singing. But his voice sounds alarmingly pretty on some of these tracks (particularly ‘A Gospel’). In fact, it’s the moments where he reverts back to barking like a rottweiler than can end up feeling inappropriate as on ‘Dancer’. Although that could just be the fact that ‘dancing cheek to cheek’ is a goofy lyric.

This leads onto my biggest complaint with this album: the lyrics. Idles veered away from sociopolitical subject matter on their last album Crawler in exchange more personal lyrics. This was a welcome change-up after the on-the-nose repetitive clunky hooks of Ultra Mono. However, on Tangk, Talbot has decided to write a bunch of poetic love songs. It may be partly due to the softer delivery or the fact that much of the lines are quite abstract, but there aren’t really any memorable lines here. This feels pretty unusual for an Idles album and does make it feel like there’s something missing. I’m glad he refrained from shouting more dumb lines like ‘DANCING CHEEK TO CHEEK’, but I feel there could have been some more hooks. 

As it stands, the music and his vocal delivery do all the talking. I would like to see Idles continue in this more artsy and melodic direction. With some stronger lyrics I feel like it could be perfected.