Men are at crisis point. You can read it in the headlines and hear it in the statistics – in 2015, 75 percent of all suicides in the UK were male.
And yet, the toxicity continues; the social, physical and mental pressures that have plagued masculinity for centuries aren’t abating. Don’t let the demise of Zoo and Nuts trick you, ‘lad culture’ isn’t dead – it’s just got better at hiding. And Idles are here to flush it out.
‘Samaritans’, the Bristol punks’ new single, is one of the most essential songs you hear all year. When the group played it at Primavera Sound last month, you could feel the hairs on the necks of everyone in the pogoing, mosh-heavy crowd stand to attention. Named after the charity that offers a listener’s ear to anyone in need, ‘Samaritans’ takes a different tact – rather than listening, it demands the floor.
Atop a rackety drum beat, frontman Joe Talbot blurts out all the punishing expectations imposed on him and his gender from a young age – “man up”, “sit down”, “socks up”, “don’t cry”; “Grow some balls, you said, grow some balls”. It’s a marching beat and chanted refrain for a Western world that bombards its men with demands, backed by a swarming, deafening racket of high-gain guitars and that piercing, ever-present snare.
“The mask of masculinity is a mask that’s wearing me,” Talbot croons, admitting to his failure to supersede the expectations placed upon him. “I’m a real boy and I’ll cry, I love myself and I want to try,” he then offers, flipping Nirvana’s ‘I Hate Myself And I Want To Die’ on its head. He later screams about kissing a boy and liking it – a frenzied rejection of masculine tropes and perversion of Katy Perry’s now-controversial debut single, heavy with the weight of casting off all those toxic expectations.
It’s the non-chorus at the heart of ‘Samaritans’ that leaves the most lasting mark, however. “This is why you never see your father cry,” Talbot bellows, cutting straight to the core of male relationships and the opposed-magnets tension that bubbles below the surface of each one. “This why you never see your father,” he follows up, leaving that last word hanging in the air. When they ended on that loaded line at Primavera, the crowd shivered for a second, before bursting into applause. The point was made; the seed of thought was planted.
If last year’s ‘Brutalism’ LP, and the one-two of previous singles ‘Colossus’ and ‘Danny Nedelko’, didn’t already prove it, ‘Samaritans’ is here to make yet another statement – Idles are one of Britain’s most important bands. Listen up.