Just when you think you’ve got Idles all figured out, they flip the tables and scarper. In the build-up to their upcoming third album, ‘Ultra Mono’, they’ve both played to their strengths (‘Mr. Motivator’) and realigned their aim but remained familiar (‘Grounds’).
‘A Hymn’, then, is a departure from the rough and ready fight. In fact, it’s the closest thing they’ve come to releasing an all-out ballad. But fear not, the band haven’t pulled out an acoustic guitar, ‘A Hymn’ is fuzzy and atmospheric, cutting the moody hypnosis of The xx’s ‘Crystalised’ with the industrial snarl of Nine Inch Nails. ‘Ultra Mono’ is shaping up to be a special record, indeed.
Across their first two albums – 2017’s ‘Brutalism’ and 2018’s ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ – the Bristol mob raged for positive change, refusing to stay silent as the world did its best to create conflict and divides. With Brexit looming once more, a contentious US election on the horizon and a global pandemic, a similar loud, proud and inspirational rallying cry would be an easy win for Idles. The new material suggests that’s not on the agenda. On ‘Grounds’ they reference calls to make the national syllabus more honest about the country’s horrific colonial past. ‘A Hymn’ is further proof that this band are so much more than just repurposed clichés. Rather than raging against the machine, it’s not sure it likes what it sees in the mirror.
Opening with a doom-laden guitar check before morphing into something more twinkling and delicate, there’s a touch of ‘Colossus’ (‘Joy…’s opening track) to its slow-burning attack. But while that song violently erupted, ‘A Hymn’ keeps schtum with clenched-fists. The usually raucous might of Idles is transformed, the track simply fades out with heartbeat drums and the repeated message of “shame” without ever kicking-off.
Rather than inspiring carnage, it embraces the drama that frontman Joe Talbot can conjure with his voice. The lyrics touch on body image (“I lost ten pounds for the wedding”), uncertainty (“sofa surfer extraordinaire”) and nostalgia (“Teletext has a place in my heart”). It doesn’t do much to provide answers but it does create a space to vent those complex emotions. With loads of heart and their urgent call for unity replaced with moments of bristling reflection, ‘A Hymn’ is an acknowledgement of universal self-doubts.
Previously-released tracks from ‘Ultra Mono’ have flirted with a shifting direction and the news that the band were working with producer-extraordinaire Kenny Beats (Vince Staples, Denzel Curry) suggested where their influences may take them. But this restrained ‘A Hymn’ is another welcome change=up for the band. Refusing to be bogged down in other people’s expectations, this brooding anthem is proof that with this band, anything is possible.
Idles’ ‘A Hymn’ is out now