Ultra Mono sees IDLES return with an unapologetic ‘sound of strength in numbers’
IDLES are not a band without critics. The authenticity of their politics has much been debated by fans and music critics alike; notably Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson branding them as ‘appropriating a working-class voice’ (personally I don’t see this) and recent discussions regarding their ostensibly white male support act choices, in spite of their proudly feminist lyrics. The latter was recieved with sadness by lead singer Joe Talbot, who acknowledged the lack of diversity, and the band went on to release a far more diverse support act list.
Without getting too involved in these controversies, I was personally disappointed by the band’s initial choices but have been impressed by their sense of responsibility and quick turn around to resolve the problem, and am keen to keep an open mind to the opinions of both the band and critics.
Stepping back from these issues, IDLES’ album Ultra Mono was released on the 25/09/20, and outlines some of the bands acclaimed song-writing and melodic vibrance. Not shying away from important issues, the album attacks racism, Tories and the patriarchy just to name a few - to my delight, the third track ‘Mr Motivator’ highlights the work of inspirational female punks who trailblazed the scene before IDLES, with the line “Like Kathleen Hanna with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy.”, making smart cross-historical observations. Whilst it is disappointing in the music sphere that it’s cisgendered, white men getting most of the airtime, IDLES present social issues in a way which holds themselves up to a light too.
Perhaps IDLES’ most represented social issue is that of classicism and solidarity of working classes; the album is rife with metaphors referring to nuanced issues of financial trade, welfare and corrupt propaganda led media, such as The Sun. The second track ‘Grounds’ in particular articulates these issues in a way which is both clever and catchy, the band retaining their notorious short and sharp phrases - “Do you hear that thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers.” Many punk fans have found this songwriting technique slightly ‘try-hard’, but I feel that IDLES incorporate a more traditional feature of punk music in this; one which caters perfectly to live performances, and brings a memorable message across quickly. Their songwriting succeeds in cleverness and intellect, whilst avoiding an overly ‘academic’ exclusionary language.
Track number 4, ‘Anxiety’, channels this simple yet effective approach. Lyrically, it outlines general societal anxiety at the state of the world currently, even making an ultra-contemporary reference to the pandemic (“the poor can’t buy the cure”). The heavy, unsettling bassline jangles along throughout the song, amplifying the sense of an increasing heartrate.
‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’, featuring Savages’ singer Jehnny Beth talks about consent and bodily autonomy, partiuclarly in clubs; “this is my dance space”. The collaboration sounds effortless and apt to welcome a female singer onto a song about harassment, and again offers a catchy and clear message.
Ultimately, Ultra-Mono is a well crafted album which, in true IDLES fashion, addresses a plethora of important social issues in creative allegories and with succinct songwriting. Towards the end of the album we get a homage to their past dabbles in darker grunge/post-punk sounds; personally, my favourite songs, but the majority being fast-paced and energetic does create a powerful first impression. Importantly, IDLES have retained their ethos diligently of punk as protest, pushing an overall message of the need for solidarity and equality, more than ever, in 2020.