1.MTT 420RR /2.The Wheel</span< /3.When The Lights Come On /4. Car Crash/5.The New Sensation /6. Stockholm Syndrome /7. The Beachland Ballroom /8.Crawl! /9. Meds/10.Kelechi /11. Progress /12. Wizz /13. King Snake /14. The End

Release date: 16 November 2021

…or what does a paralytic loveless dream sound like?

When IDLES first dropped ‘Brutalism’ – their debut album on the planet, followed by a mind-blowing gig at Rough Trade East at the height of a blistering London summer – we all jumped for joy in the presence of a band that dared to IDLES coverlook at the ‘life of the dog’ and had the audacity to spit on the ills of such a life with the in-your-face emotional drama that is absent from our everyday lives. Two studio and two live albums later, this band has stood the test of time and drop ‘CRAWLER’. IDLES have carried a certain assertiveness with them, an  urge – to take back things ‘stolen’ (friends, innocence, jobs, decency…) – that comes from the emotional strength acquired over time, when someone keeps too many things inside for far too long.

Are you ready for the storm? (lyrics:MTT 420RR)

‘CRAWLER’ comes from the end of the 70s yet winks at the brilliant indie rock/dream pop period of the 90s, all the while innocently whistling South American blues’ rhythms. It is the richest, loudest, most mature, freshest album of theirs to date and a welcome addition to a vibrant worldwide punk scene. This album explores post-punk sonic paths with new-found creativity and inspiration;  and is the result of an osmotic process between songwriting and sound-making, inspired by some of the greatest post-punk bands that precede them. ‘CRAWLER’ traverses punk rhythms while dancing under the discreet influences of 60s garage and early 80s proto-industrial. Its 13 songs reimagine the guitar as a channeler of industrial sensations accompanied by throbbing drums that only momentarily give away their true nature and are, for once, NOT the instrument that grounds the sound.

I danced grief from my pores…” (lyrics: ‘When The Lights Come On‘)

Starting with the cryptically entitled, Massive Attack infused ‘MTT 420RR’, the album drags us into its dystopian space through powerful rhythms, spiced with playful percussive textures which in turn give way to bright synth sounds, all lightening the weight of the heavy guitar/drum sequences which anchor the album to its dark sonic surroundings. Mark Bowen and Kenny Beats ‘sign’ the production of this album which results in a masterfully crafted full-bodied three-dimensional sound which is brilliantly juxtaposed with Joe’s vocals and overall performance. Mastering comes from the Grammy Award winning mastering engineer, music consultant, musician, songwriter and producer Joe La Porta who has worked with Foo Fighters and The Killers among other recognizable names. ‘The Wheel builds on the industrial rhythms incubated in the opening track and the lyrics hit you in the face with a bone-cracking dystopia that is here to stay, twist you up and spin you down.

I got to my knees and I beg my mother with a bottle in one hand, it’s one or the other and so it turns again and again…‘ (lyrics: ‘The Wheel‘)

Post-punk sensibilities, along with a desire for experimentation with texture and rhythm, become more obvious during the first half of this album -the fact that IDLES would be flirting with noise is something both enlightening and unexpected in a sense. ‘Car Crash‘ and ‘The New Sensation‘ are both proofs of these explorations. The second half makes the connection with the band’s previous albums as spoken word alongside more traditionally angry and punk rock forms return.

A visual language that reflects the spirit of the lyrics rather than the music

Three videos have been produced for this album, two of which offer different visual interpretations of ‘The Beachland Ballroom‘ and a third one, released just a month ago for the song ‘CRAWL!‘. As far as the former are concerned, while the music hints at ballroom dancing, let’s just say that if the delirious character of this video showed up to dance with Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman instead of Johny Castle, it wouldn’t be just her dad that would have objected to that. Both videos are the result of a whole team of experts and consultants including Simon Donellon, who has worked with high profile fashion brands and media. I must admit that I came to these videos much later compared with the rest of the album which I had already listened numerous times. I felt that they were quite different compared to the music and the lyrics. I am glad I came to them after listening to this song on its own without visuals, as they took something away from it which I can’t really describe. All videos, directed by LOOSE and co-directed by IDLES themselves, showcase their skills and an experimental attitude towards movement, recording and the translation of a concept into image. All three respect the cinematic approach IDLES have always opted for in their visuals which has always accentuated the dramatic element of the lyrics and they take it one step further. The first of the two videos for ‘The Beachland Ballroom‘ is a zoomed in, close-up on the character’s face, while the other takes place almost entirely inside a beautiful venue that could have been the place for ballroom dancing. Both depict the agony of the lyrics but don’t aesthetically refer to the elegant melancholy of the music and the emotional depth of the vocals, that hark back to a solemn, contained sadness similar to the one Leonard Cohen or Mark Lanegan infuse their performances with. I have watched both videos a few times since and remain undecided about them…

The video for ‘CRAWL!‘ is a completely different story especially as it uses horror animation in order to complement the music. We follow the trip of a character made of clay – a lookalike of Joe Talbot, who drives a motorbike to its own destruction. Adopting a visually sarcastic language that corresponds to the chorus of the song, the video could have been seen as a spin-off of ‘Ghost Rider’ s trailer. Its transitions, and the story it creates, lifts the song to another dimension as it is at once humorous and dramatic. I’ve watched this video many times and I find the whole visual approach to this song to be a brilliant choice!

A musician’s path to a glorious dramatic performance

The richness of styles, tones and ‘colours’ adopted here – surpassing every other song he has delivered – suggest the revelation of the essence of his soul. Joe’s performance reaches new heights, flirting at times with a Lanegan-inspired universe and at other times with a Curtis’ one. Never before have I encountered such a fascinating disparity between the music, the lyrics and their delivery. All three elements are narrating very different, powerful stories, emotionally and conceptually. You could have either without the other two, but because IDLES bring them together in the way they do, the result is mind-blowing.. Joe has matured as a performer and now colours each verse with richer tones and minute emotional outbursts that create a powerful combination.

A royalist and a drug user walk into a bar, both buy their captors drinks accusing the other’s gone too far…‘ (lyrics: ‘Stockholm Syndrome‘)

And then comes ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ – and my first moment of ‘who, what, wh…, eh?’. Bone-cracking blues from IDLES? Delivered with all the weight of lived pain and hardship, the emotional heaviness of American blues laced with punk energy that cuts like a knife, this song could easily have marked the end of the album. Instead, it’s the middle of the roller-coaster.

…embalm the shoes you fill only shoot to kill then meditate, meditate, meditate…‘ (lyrics: ‘Meds‘)

One song and a few free-jazz infused riffs later, ‘Progress‘ gave me the second ‘what, why, wh…eh?’ moment as it deliberately invokes a dreamy psychedelic trip the equal of our most beloved trip hop songs, just before the manic ‘Wizz‘ comes to shake things up once again. ‘King Snake‘ – the only straightforward political song on this album – makes references to anything from Prince Andrew’s scandal to the structure of modern politics in Britain and beyond. The album ends with a track whose impact can only be compared to that of the last spin round the dancefloor on a feverish night. ‘The End‘ brings the roller-coaster to a halt. Something snaps, and the idea that this is a result of a mentally cathartic process (yes, one with subtle religious connotations) springs to mind. After such a thrilling ride, we’re left wondering…how does one carry on their day after being ‘hit’ by  ‘CRAWLER’?

God damn, in spite of it all life is beautiful‘ (lyrics: ‘The End)

This album has been part of our ‘Soundtrack of 2021’ which can be accessed from here.


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