There are, improbably, a couple of nods to ’80s romantic drama Dirty Dancing on Bristol punks Idles’ instant classic second album ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’. On the deceptively brooding ‘Love Song’, which pairs howling guitar lines (that could have been lifted from the start of a horror movie) with compassionate lyrics about the redemptive power of romantic love, frontman Joe Talbot roars, “I carry the watermelon / I wanna be vulnerable”, a line partially borrowed from the movie. The record also features a cover of ‘Cry To Me’, the 1962 Solomon Burke soul song that appears on the soundtrack (and was covered by The Rolling Stones in 1965), here reimagined as a grinding, skeezy industrial shuffle.
READ MORE: The Big Read: Idles on new album ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ and the positive punk revolution
Well, it’s a fun film, and they’re fun punks; there’s a notable dissonance between Idles’ music and collective persona. The former is serious, important, tackling taboos with thunderous production and lyrics that are pro-immigration, anti-Brexit, pro-equality and determined to decapitate toxic masculinity. And yet Idles are a colourful bunch whose debut, 2016’s ‘Brutalism’, peppered their righteous punk with bizarre jokes (“Mary Berry loves reggae / So why don’t you love reggae?”). ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ dials down the eccentricity.
Instead, this record is – for the most part – serious business delivered with a smirk, heavy subjects handled with lightness of touch. ‘Danny Nedelko’ is joyous, bubblegum punk named after a friend of the band, a Ukranian immigrant, of whom frontman Joe Talbot bellows: “He’s made of flesh, he’s made of love / He’s made of you, he’s made of me /Unity!” Talbot recently dedicated the track to all immigrants, saying: “We wanted to celebrate their bravery for coming over here to start a new life… Long live the open-minded.” Anti-Brexit anthem ‘Great’, meanwhile, concludes with the frontman sneering: “You can have it all / I don’t mind / Just get ready / To work overtime”.
You could blow your entire word-count on quoting Idles’ amazing lyrics. ‘Samaritans’ attempts to annihilate toxic masculinity as Talbot screams, “This is why you never see your father cry,” before roughly 1000 guitars pile in on the defiant line: “I KISSED A BOY AND I LIKED IT.” On the towering ‘Colossus’, an ode to addiction, he rages: “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins.” The nuance – the attention to detail – in the compositions, though, may be what makes ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ so rewarding to return to.
It’s in the shrieked backing vocals (surely the best job in the world: being the dude that stands at the back of Idles screaming “YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!” over and over again); the clattering beat that opens ‘Samaritans’; the jungle bassline that snakes through ‘Great’. Guitarist Mark Bowen recently explained to NME: “To me, ‘Joy As An Act of ‘Resistance’ means approaching guitar music with a certain amount of levity and a lack of self-consciousness. It’s just about a burst of joy, and I hope that come across on the album.” It certainly does.
Everything about ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is just so perfectly realised. The band began to write the album immediately after they finished work on ‘Brutalism’ – and it shows. The songs feel lived in, the record’s overarching message – that of the necessity of unity, positivity and loving yourself – so empowering that it almost amounts to an entire worldview. It’s even more powerful for the fact that Talbot worked on the album in the midst of massive personal trauma. This is a proper classic punk album, one that people will turn to in times of need, one whose authors are unembarrassed about still believing that art can manifest positive change. As Talbot roars on ‘I’m Scum’: “This snowflake’s an avalanche.”