Courtesy of Noah Connor
The previous two songs I’ve covered in my little columns have been years old. This column, however, is about an album that is only about a month old. The album I’m referring to is Joy as an Act of Resistance (which will be styled as JOY for the rest of this piece) by the UK based post-punk band IDLES.
On August 31st IDLES released the follow-up to their 2017 album Brutalism and what struck me about the new album immediately is that many of the songs on it are positive. This is in stark contrast to Brutalism as that album was extremely, well, brutal. Brutalism contained songs like “1049 Gotho” which is a stark look at depression and its effects on the people who live with it, and “Well Done” which is a sardonic look at the ways that the powerful influence the lives of people in the lower class: “why don’t you get a job?/ Even tarquin has a job/ Mary Berry’s got a job/ so why don’t you get a job?/ Well done!” In contrast to this many of the songs on JOY deal with topics like loving yourself (“Television”), and the ways that toxic masculinity effects society (“Samaritans”). These are the two songs that I’ll focus on in this article.
The song “Television” starts off with the most quintessentially IDLES lyric that has ever existed: “if someone talked to you the way you do to you/ I’d put their teeth through/ love yourself!” I personally believe that this is the most punk way I have ever been told to love myself in a song. This line is a little goofy, sure, but it also feels so genuine coming from singer Joe Talbot’s mouth. I have never felt more intimidated being told to love myself, but I’ve also never felt more that an artist actually wants me to love myself than I have when I listen to this song. The verse continues on with more lyrics about loving yourself and they all lead into this chorus that just explodes with energy and passion: “I go outside and I feel free/ ‘cause I smash mirrors/ and fuck TV.” Talbot is singing about destroying mirrors and all the insecurity that they create within people. He also proclaims “fuck TV” because of the role it plays in making many people discontent with the way that they look. I really love the bridge to this track and its usage of the phrase “crocodile tears” and how it moulds it to other aspects of the human condition: “numb me from these naysayers/ and their crocodile fears/ and their crocodile love/ and their crocodile tears.” This idea of loving yourself in the face of many things telling you not to pertains heavily with the theme of the second issue of Deprived that was released recently.
The song “Samaritans” is one of the tracks that the band released as a single. This song is about toxic masculinity and how it effects everyone. The verses are singer Joe Talbot yelling out common phrases associated with the corrupted ideals of masculinity: “man up, sit down/ chin up, pipe down/ socks on, don’t cry/ drink up, don’t whine/ ‘grow some balls’ he said,/ ‘grow some balls.’” These are all oft heard phrases that help perpetuate the idea of masculinity and they are also phrases that lead to the toxic ideals that can be found within masculinity.
The pre-chorus and chorus to “Samaritans” are absolutely phenomenal. The pre-chorus sees Joe sing about his own experiences with masculinity and how when one plays a role so often it ends up becoming them: “the mask of masculinity/ is a mask, a mask that’s wearing me.” The chorus is a simple refrain of “this is why you never see your father cry.” This refrain works wonders for the song as it can be interpreted in different ways which is surprising for such a simple chorus. One way is that Talbot is addressing the audience directly and it feels almost as if he’s letting us in on the secret to why the listeners never see their fathers cry. The other way I like to interpret this line is that it’s a parent talking to their child and it shows how toxic masculinity not only effects the person who is being toxic, but also the people who exist in close proximity to it. They have become so corrupted by this idea that they start perpetuating it. Something else that works in the favour of the message of this song is the way that Talbot cuts off the repeated line the last time he sings it. So instead of “this is why you never see your father cry” it turns to “this is why you never see your father.” This one word change causes the lyric to have a totally different meaning; it shows just how much the concepts surrounding masculinity can effect people who operate in a position outside of the masculinity itself.
The bridge in “Samaritans” is an absolute blast of adrenaline. The bridge has a slow build with just the drums and guitar playing off of each other for a bit before a wall of noise enters and Joe confidently yells “I kissed a boy and I liked it!” This section is absolutely the centrepiece of the entire song and it acts as an acceptance of who one is while also rejecting the ideals of toxic masculinity. It is also reads as a strange reference to Katy Perry’s 2008 hit “I Kissed a Girl.” The rest of the song after this repeats the words from the verse just with different, more powerful music driving it. This section of the song makes one want to punch a homophobe.
IDLES are a punk band that become increasingly necessary with each release. Many of the topics on their first album Brutalism were specific to the UK and used many celebrities and figureheads from the UK to make their points. Some examples of this would be the songs “Rachel Khoo” and the previously mentioned “Well Done”. On JOY the band see themselves reaching for more universal topics that seem much more urgent than many of the topics covered on Brutalism. Well Done.