IDLES are the most revolutionary band since the Sex Pistols
An album review of sorts, but more of a standing ovation for IDLES, who are not just writing incredible songs, but finding a new way for men to be.
IDLES, ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ – 10/10
‘The mask of masculinity
Is a mask that’s wearing me.’
The Book of Man has been running for nearly six months now, and as you work away taking pick axe to the rock of old school masculinity, you look for seams of common thinking. Who else is out there? You become very attuned to any glint of anyone taking on the mantle of gender and, as naturally follows, societal change. And there are many out there, plenty, enough to show you that you are but one small worker in a growing endeavour. Then one day, you take a big swing with your little axe, and strike oil. A geyser rushes at you which obliterates mere words on a screen and overwhelms you with real bursting life, expressing everything you’re trying to do over 1,000 articles in just 3 minutes of song. IDLES are this oil, and their new album ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ is a surfboard to show a way out into the light for men today.
IDLES are a five-piece band from Bristol led by front man Joe Talbot, who blend the full throttle chaos of The Libertines, with the confrontational street corner wit of Sleaford Mods, but with an irrepressible joy all of their own. They feel alive.
The band has an DIY ‘family’ set-up, where all artwork, releases, management matters are controlled by the members and a small circle of trusted people. In this independent spirit, Joe Talbot writes songs about trying to be a better man, about daring to be vulnerable, about learning to love yourself. The songs are honest and powerful and funny and real. Their first album, ‘Brutalism’, was about the death of Joe’s mother, and a special run of LPs had his mother’s ashes pressed into the vinyl. This second album ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ follows on from the death of his child at birth. It is a document of finding a way out of sorrow and changing your life and the life of those around you. It is fearless. It is joyful.
“The first album was about an explosion of grief and loss in different formats without much time to reflect,” Joe told the BBC, “The second is more of a mindful progression of reflection upon loss again with an aim to become a better person, in turn a better friend, a better partner and a better musician.”
“The optimism is because I’ve been through the worst thing I can. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be angry, as long as you embrace that fear and anger and you let it manifest into something productive.”
The album continually presses home these kind of messages about turning life’s losses into triumphs, and kicking down the door of restrictive masculinity as they do so. The opening song is called ‘Colossus’ and is split into two parts, with the first ominously brooding over the weight of the past, where the lyrics go:
‘I am my father’s son
His shadow weighs a tonne’
Before the song takes a big long silent breath then explodes into a hair-raising punk explosion, with Joe screaming ‘I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin/I put homophobes in coffins’ in a way that…ah, just check it out this performance here.
Then there is a song called ‘Samaritans’ which deconstructs the conditioning you go through in the journey from boy to man, the blunt lessons passed down which scrub away your humanity:
Grow some balls, he said
Grow some balls’
Check out the haunting video here…
In the album’s starkest moment, there’s a song called ‘June’ which is specifically about the death of Joe’s baby. It has a lyric about the need to retain his identity as a father despite not having a child in his arms:
‘A stillborn was still born
I am a father.’
It’s heartbreaking, and we’re far from ashamed to say we cry our eyes out every time we listen to it. It’s rare to see such exposure on record, but then this is what IDLES are all about.
“We’re going to be vulnerable on stage and on record, as a way of allowing people to feel safe and be vulnerable themselves,” the frontman told ES.
They continually find strength in openness and defying stereotypes. This is a band who give each other a kiss on stage before they play:
‘Love Song’ is in a similar vein, in which Joe writes about his girlfriend, saying:
‘It’s not about sex and sex and sex and sex and sex and sex and sex
I want to be your best ever friend
Forever best friend’
‘You give me power
You’re like a gun or a knife
Be my wife.’
It makes it seem edgy and unorthodox to be in love and give a shit about someone. Which in this ugly world is exactly what it is.
Again and again, you are reminded that progressive ideals don’t mean sitting back and wringing your hands – it’s about taking control back, calling people out and finding strength in unity.
On ‘I’m Scum’ he sings:
‘This snowflake’s an avalanche.’
On ‘Television’ he sings:
‘If someone talked to you
The way you do to you
I’d put their teeth through
And that is the core message here, and that is the reason why it’s the album of the year, and IDLES are the band for our era. When the world encourages you to be a passive phone tapper, just one part of an algorithm chain, the album reaffirms the need to find self-respect as the first step towards changing the way things are.
And while their lessons are for everybody, it is also true that they are mapping out is a new way of being a man. And making it feel exciting.
Check out these quotes, first from the BBC again:
“Everything is down to centuries of praxis of wanting to feel part of something and to be safe from different kinds of cultural tyranny. The new wave of feminism that sparked everyone’s interest in gender roles allowed everyone to reflect on what the problems were and one of the things – as someone looking inwards and trying to be a better person – I reflected on was masculinity, myself as a man. So I thought, if I’m part of the problem how can I change to make this situation better?”
And now from Rolling Stone:
“Masculinity is all toxic, basically. Masculinity as a set of ideologies and normalcies is dangerous in the grand scheme of things. I found that a lot of the reasons why I was behaving in an abusive way – abusing myself, abusing my relationships and abusing my role as a person – were because I was so alone and angry at myself, because I didn’t feel like I was performing as well as I could as a man.”
Now if that doesn’t strike a chord on a large Town Hall bell deep within you, then you’re on the wrong site. For those of us who’ve spent most of their lives as a man in a chaotic mess of bad moves, hedonism-turning-to-nihilism and cycles of identity construction and destruction, well that seems about right.
Out in the world it’s a battle to fight the years of old school masculinity built around you, and what the New Masculinity needs are new role models – and IDLES have just streaked to the front of the pack. Honest men channelling real life through loud and aggressive music, but not leaving hurt behind only shockwaves of humanity.
IDLES are revolutionary, no doubt about it. You have to go back to the dismal 70s to find the last band as insurrectionary as IDLES, and that was the Sex Pistols. Same confrontational attitude, same attack music, same knack for melodies, but with one main difference; in place of the hate, IDLES have joy.
Joy as an Act of Resistance.
Yes. We’re fully on board.
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