When their second album, Joy As An Act of Resistance, shocked everyone to debut at number 5 in the British charts, duly smashing Rough Trade’s previous record for the most pre-orders and sales in one single day in the process, IDLES claimed their place as leaders, tearing down perceptions and steadfastly bucking the current trend towards manufactured style over any real substance. Before the year was out the album had won the band a legion of fans that eagerly burst out from the U.K. with stomping boots and loud voices, and proceeded to stretch forth right across the globe.
It would earn them major features in magazines such as Q, Mojo, Rolling Stone, N.M.E. and G.Q. as well as articles and glossy spreads in renowned newspapers like The Guardian and the influential New York Times. Joe Talbot, Adam Devonshire, Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan and drummer Jon Beavis had climbed onto the world’s stage with a potent freshness and originality, and an in-your-face honesty that would refuse to be ignored any longer. They highlighted in rage and frustration the polarisation they saw all about. The songs were throat-rattling indictments against sexism and racism, warnings of nationalism and the spread of what they saw as a toxic masculinity, whilst also being and sounding incredibly personal, wearing both its heart and an active mind colourfully upon its sleeve. IDLES were not so much a bolt in the arm of the newly fake and glossy norm, but rather a punch to the throat and a screaming in the ear to a safe and sanitised musical landscape, and the band that formed in 2009 were soon the leaders of this fightback.
Joy… would rise to earn the guys from Bristol a coveted Ivor Novello award for Best Album and see them nominated for a Mercury Prize. It would lead to two extensive sell-out world tours: “no band toured harder”, their message spreading out ever further to a now captive audience of the converted. But, if Joy… was designed to be a passionate and loud political manifesto, then the highly anticipated new release of Ultra Mono, is supposedly the sound of a now confident band evolving fast, and rushing headlong towards a new scene of battle, armed with a sword and ever-ready with the battering ram. Here was, and is, a band you could at last pin all your hopes on, with ideals you could faithfully rally around and with a set of sculptured-in-rock songs we can all truly believe in. Old school maybe, influences clearly on show, but most definitely adorned in brand new uniforms of their own design and making. They are guides and contributors to a community of outsiders brought together through the sometimes wonderful, often maligned world on social media, to a safe place where its citizens can speak freely on everything and anything, from musical tastes and eager new suggestions, to the important issues of mental health, where they could find a safety and strength in numbers… There is a tight connection and an increasingly strengthening bond between band and fans who back each other loyally, to the end.
“Whaching! That’s the sound of the sword going in… That’s the sound of the children tooker”, Talbot hollers above the throbbing and convulsing openings of “War”, into eager ears primed to listen, Ultra Mono bursting to life with that full-throated rawness, of urgency and breathlessness, and relentlessly hammered home by never-ending lines of dire observation upon a Britain weary and wary: “Send Sally to the sand box baby, We’re dying for the stone-faced liars”. An immediate call-to-arms, time to reach for the tin helmet again and to march forward in time and in step,
“Do you hear the thunder?”, for they have come among us once more with a new, rash but fresh confidence, and always desperate to share, that throaty roar continuing through a swaggering “Grounds”, coloured in tone by the thrashing of wild guitars and an ever increasing loudness in full voice, led by the thumping drums beating the advance.
Ultra Mono, hard, unapologetic, builds from the debut of Brutalism and on the foundation of Joy… to an album that the band themselves feel they have been striving towards, an obligation to craft something bigger than themselves. But there are moments of consolation, moments, however fleeting, of soothing tenderness. The whimsically, delicately caressed keys that open the track Kill Them With Kindness, a catch of breath before we’re quickly grabbed by the throat and ripped back into the approaching darkness all over again: “Hot boot slammed to the ground so I see what shakes… It doesn’t mean you have to bow or say your highness”.
Deliberately constructed to capture the feeling of a sonic hip-hop record - the band have revealed that the American producer and songwriter Kenny Beats even helped with the programming on several tracks - the songs, according to the band, “double down on the vitriolic sneer and blunt social commentary” that courses through the veins of their past work. But they do not repeat the echoes of the past or cover old ground.. at least, not as bluntly.
Mr. Motivator, with its allusions to, “Conor McGregor with a samurai sword on roller blades”, and Model Village, a place populated with nine fingered boys, over-priced drugs and half-pint thugs, so “take flight, take flight”, were Ultra’s carefully and cleverly constructed early released teasers, songs deigned to whet eager appetites, rocking, grungy forebodings of what was to come. Here, now all together, they are surrounded and accompanied, coloured and tempered by songs like Carcinogenic and A Hymn, consoling and soothingly melodic, even encouraging: “You only die once, you never come back”, interspersed with the hoarsely chanted reminder that the, “lunatics have taken over the asylum”. And then there’s the almost schizophrenic rhythm of The Lover, with its wildly changing-of-direction and mood, its fighting tones and melody refusing to allow you to settle and relax safely.
Mostly written on the spot whilst in the studio, Ultra Mono has at its core, according to the band, an “active presence and self-acceptance”, with the mantra , “I am I”, always serving as a lyrical shaman to fence the boundaries throughout; raucous, menacing but always unfailingly compelling. Released on the 25th September, Ultra Mono has already received critical acclaim, showcasing a band who have grown in experience and wisdom and who’ve evolved but, yet, are still speaking out with an angst-filled relevance whilst keeping that sense of “potent individuality”… As well as a screaming honesty that refuses to be ignored or just brushed aside. It is an up-to-date soundtrack to the still split and disjointed Britain that they look upon, that not only created IDLES but also continues to feed them, scare them and obviously inspire them.
This is their offering to their community that gathers close in confidence, that they have been striving to encourage whilst fiercely sheltering and protecting. And new fans will continue to come, out of that sense of being on the very outskirts and left alone to look on, attracted into a diverse congregation that together just wants to be loved, because “everybody does”.
“We made it”, Talbot assures them, followed by the inevitable side swipe that keeps us on our toes and always aware. “Shame”!
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