English post-punk outfit leave life and lyrics on the line at Théâtre Fairmount
“It’s not up to me whether you love yourself, it was a period in my life where I had to do it,” said Joe Talbot, lead vocalist of Idles. The five piece band from England is touring North America and Europe with their new album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. They broke out last year with Brutalism, which put the punks on the map for their sardonic polemics on nationalist English politics over unfiltered, blaring guitars and percussion.
For their second album, the pressure was on to feed the flame first fanned with Brutalism.
Ultimately, they tried to make the first record again. The band felt frustrated in attempting to capitalize on hype, and finally scrapped the project. “We were in a downward spiral; we had to learn to enjoy ourselves, for ourselves,” said Talbot. His mother passed away during the creation of Brutalism and, in February, he stopped drinking after struggling with alcoholism. Joy as an Act of Resistance shows joy as resistant to different things, one being turbulence in the band members’s own lives.
At the depths of Talbot’s depression, he found joy through vulnerability in therapy. “I carried so much weight of turmoil and insecurities all my life. As soon as I started becoming vulnerable, exchanging vulnerability with my partner and my friends, a weight was lifted,” he said.
The idea of vulnerability is fuel for the joy expressed throughout the album. Each song is a detonation of ego, masculinity, xenophobia and other topics that Talbot and the gang gun down one by one. When explaining the project to me, Talbot retained that same humility and honesty, making no attempt to oversell his recent indie smash. While technically robust and more polished than ever, Idles’s sound alone was never their defining feature. “I think being derivative is a dirty word in cool bands,” Talbot admitted.
The tone is raucous, but the lyrics are dead-simple. After Brutalism, Talbot resisted overcomplicating the next record. “I just wanted to make an album that was as naive as possible,” he said. He explained that on the track “Danny Nedelko,” a pro-immigration anthem about Talbot’s best friend, a Ukrainian immigrant to Bristol, Talbot’s simple thesis is “why would you want to kick someone out who’s a nice person?” Talbot said he wants to make people dance and think at the same time. “Obviously, there’s a huge weight behind what I’m saying. If you sit me down with some other pseudo-intellectual we could sit there and ponder on the importance of immigration,” he laughed.
Talbot writes in simple, childlike syntax on this album as an intentional subversion of hype from Idles’s last album. “What I wanted to do is make an album that joyfully resists the trope of ‘this pseudo-intellectual band that are gonna do something clever with the second album, like they did that rudimentary first album,’” he said. “So I was like alright, I’m going to make something that sounds childlike. I’m going to write lyrics that a 10-year-old could write,” he said.
“It’s also something that I thought would be a vulnerable act, is to be naive, because critics don’t like naivety,” said Talbot. Indeed, Pitchfork’s review panned the latest record for painting with too broad a stroke.
The direct nature of the lyrics and the explosive energy of Idles’s sound makes for a wildfire of a live show. The boys played Théâtre Fairmount on Tuesday, Sept. 18. As they opened with “Colossus,” a booming, slowburn of an album opener on Joy as an Act of Resistance, you could see that the crowd had been waiting for this moment for months. All of the visceral, focused chaos that comes across in Idles’s sound was there in the live show. Explosive, animated performances from all five members left the crowd teaming with energy, boiling over into moshes that made you check your ego at the door. And for a time, there was nothing to resist, just pure, unmitigated joy.