IDLES have had a strange journey over the last few years. Reaching such a dizzying creative peak in 2018 off the back of their debut Brutalism and perfected sophomore Joy as an Act of Resistance left me wandering where exactly they could take their sound, the answer wasn’t very far. At least, there hasn’t been much of an ascension since 2018. Their late 2020 release Ultra Mono was a conformation that their sound and blunt messaging had run its course, with Sleaford Mods leading a general cultural shift in the perception of the band, moving from a refreshing angry take on political punk music, to tired slogans that only ever made the most obvious points. Their next album, CRAWLER, followed just a year later, clearly a reaction to this stagnation and though rough around the edges an impressive sideways step that signalled promise moving forward that there is still time for IDLES to be something more. But what followed? Well, silence… in-between CRAWLER and TANGK they have taken the longest break between releases that they have ever taken, but what has that time brought?
The album opens with perhaps one of the most tender cuts of the bands career, IDEA 01. Twinkling pianos and as delicate vocals as you could reasonably expect from a singer like Joe Talbot create a song that sounds like no other IDLES cut before it. It’s slow burn begins to build, but instead of the automatic monkey part of my brain that is waiting for an explosion kicking into gear when I listen to an IDLES track, I instead found myself sensing an explosion, but not necessarily wanting it to happen, just not yet anyway. That’s what track two’s job is. Gift Horse, though picking up the tempo of track one wasn’t the all out blitz of peak IDLES, instead opting for the Slowthai-esque post-punk of last years UGLY. Unfortunately the tired one liners also begin to make an appearance, with “fuck the king, he ain’t the king, she’s the queen” sticking out like a saw thumb. It’s never that what they’re saying isn’t agreeable, it’s that it’s so damn basic. Tracks 3 and 4, POP POP POP and Roy then go on to feel like not much more than album filler. Roy at least features some unique guitar tones and a strong vocal take, but it’s structure rarely leads anywhere, leaving Talbot to try and pick up the pieces with some desperate shrieks towards the end.
Track 5 pulls you back in with something a bit special. Gospel is perhaps the closet IDLES have ever come to a ballad. However, the tenderness doesn’t quite come across as intensely as I would have liked. It really made me question whether Talbot can carry a ballad in a meaningful way. As a few more tender tracks have begun to pop up in their latest couple of albums I fear perhaps not. Ultimately, Gospel does feel like a band out of their comfort zone, and not in a good way, despite the effort the has clearly been put in. Dancer is the next track, and a high point on the album, a fast paced cut that, with the help of LCD Soundsystem rises above what has come before it comfortably. The bands ability to really make you grit your teeth and scream along has subsided over the last few years, with the transition into the chorus not winding me up quite as tightly as I would’ve wanted. That being said, when IDLES want to get you in a mood to throw yourself into dozens of likeminded sweaty Neanderthals, they sure still know how to do it.
Grace follows, the bands best example of a slow burner on the entire LP. Although there is the customary socio-politically void sloganeering that we’ve all come to expect, this time coming in the form of “No God, no King, I said love is the thing.” Yes, yes we get it, we know. As much as the track really feels like it’s pulling back to kick, the lack of a follow through is okay because of the track that follows. HALL AND OATES is the most clean cut punk track on the album. Harking back to the seventies more than the band ever has, the most beautiful thing about the song perhaps is the irony that the blank minded sloganism the track is built around, “I love my man, I love” has been personified by none other than Hall and Oates, who if any recent court cases are anything to go by, perhaps are the tightest of buddies anymore has there ever been a better example of how life, politics and relationships are infinitely more complicated and intricate than the simple binary one liners IDLES tend to write into their tracks. Irony aside though it is cool to see IDLES explore a side of punk music that they haven’t really delved that deep into yet.
Track nine, Jungle signifies another example of nothing much more than filler, failing to deliver where perhaps the band of 6 year ago would have. Gratitude offers up perhaps the strongest instrumental on the entire album, though with a vocal performance that doesn’t quite manage to meet the same high standards. A pounding run of drums, bass and guitars means that the heights the track reaches is still pretty admirable though. The final track, Monolith is a real lullaby of a final song, with a beautifully un-IDLES saxophone to close the track. It only left me wishing that there was far more of it throughout the entire album, cutting short before it really got a chance to effect me emotionally and feeling like a half-baked stroll into “something new.”
I feel almost bad looking back at my thoughts for the album, as I feel I have come across perhaps too negatively for what it album deserves, but it has to be said that there has been a stagnation of their sound from CRAWLER to TANGK is it a step down? No! But its barely a step sideways and it certainly isn’t a meaningful step forward. I suppose it all really comes down to one thing, which some people may enjoy and some may not, you know what you’re gonna get with IDLES these days.
Tangk Will Be Released Via Partisan Records on Friday 16th February 2024