It’s hard to be a punk band in Britain. Not in terms of breaking out, but in terms of saying what hasn’t already been said.
Britain is a festering, hateful, shit of a nation. And IDLES’ purposefully ugly, grey, acidic noise is designed to reflect that. Birthing out of Bristol around 2012, IDLES clearly have good taste. References point towards the greats of The Fall, The Pistols, Black Flag, and even Iceage, and the burning sense of utter displacement and anger in ‘Brexit Britain’ is justified.
The trouble arises when one quickly realises how they don’t quite know what to do with all these pointers. As Joe Talbot barks and howls over the primal avalanche of the rhythm section, it gets remarkably… tiresome.
Opening track Heel_Heal is by the far the best one here, a track that fully shows what the band can be capable of. Like capturing thunder in a bottle, snapshot drums, furious rumbling bass, and chainsaw-like guitar work paint the backdrop for Talbot at his most charismatic, like a Welsh Elias Rønnenfelt. The track speeds on with such purpose that is offset with the stop-start of lead single Well Done, a song that is distractedly similar to pretty much any McLusky song that it is rather embarrassing.
And it is only here that IDLES sadly reveal themselves as a one-note band, with every song having the same characteristic of wall-of-sound guitars and empty ‘quirky’ lyrics about celebrity chefs or whatever. IDLES’ earlier songs, while lacking in welcome anger, displayed nuanced songwriting that was begging to blossom; 26/27 was like if Foals were less posh and more into the films of Ingmar Bergman.
Exeter is the second-best track on here, with a sneering ‘nah-nah’ refrain, a song that travels lyrically from homophobia to bar fights. And with the atmospheric break in the middle, you come to realise that it’s one of the few instances where the band actually goes places.
Listening back to ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ today, what’s remarkable is that, aside from the context and historic detail, the songs are still so good. They are pretty much pop songs; most of the best punk songs of that era were, as loathe as the writers might be to admit it. While there’s no doubt that IDLES’ record collection mostly stems from those bands, and the ideas are all there, again; the songwriting isn’t.
So, ‘Brutalism’ is a purposefully ugly record that actually comes across as ugly for all the wrong reasons. While some of the tracks are certainly enjoyable on their own, the whole 42-minute experience ends up becoming an irritating itch. But the promise is still there; they just need to expand their palette and focus on what they actually want to say. As one of their lyrics goes, ‘Did you see that painting that Rothko did? Looks like it was painted by a two-year old kid. Hot air.’
‘Brutalism’ will be released through Balley Records on 10th March 2017.
IDLES are touring the UK throughout March / April:
Thursday 9th – Colchester, Arts Centre
Friday 10th – London, Moth Club
Sunday 12th – Southampton, The Notes Café
Tuesday 14th – Birmingham, The Hare And Hounds
Wednesday 15th – Guildford, Boileroom
Thursday 16th – Brighton, The Prince Albert
Friday 17th – Tunbridge Wells, Forum
Saturday 18th – Bedford, Esquires
Monday 20th – Oxford, The Bullingdon
Tuesday 21st – Sheffield, The Plug
Wednesday 22nd – Newcastle Upon Tyne, Think Tank
Thursday 23rd – Aberdeen, Tunnels
Friday 24th – Dundee, Buskers
Saturday 25th – Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s
Monday 27th – York, The Crescent
Tuesday 28th – Hull, The Adelphi
Wednesday 29th – Nottingham, The Bodega
Thursday 30th – Liverpool, O2 Academy 2
Friday 31st – Wakefield, Unity Hall
Monday 3rd – Stoke-On-Trent, The Sugarmill
Tuesday 4th – Preston, Guildhall
Wednesday 5th – Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach