The original 'Joy as an Act of Resistance' was unique with its forward-thinking messages concealed in the blunt object of Joe Talbot's delivery. This contrast isn’t for everyone, a slam poet mid knife fight. The sophomore Ultra Mono stripped it back further, filling the gaps with naked aggression. It’s always good to see a band grow, but any further in that direction would be too far for me.
So we get to the latest album. My headphones had broken early in the week (I’d like to say from too much moshing, but maybe it drowned in Swiftie tears), so I was feeling sufficiently pissed off for an album I expected to have me screaming and stomping. I was surprised to find then, dirge-like chants that tumble over each other.
'MTT 420 RR' is the opener, named for the bike that almost claimed the life of the lead singer. It is an ominous warning, and is, potentially, the best song, mixing up instruments to create a sense of curiosity of this new direction. If a near-death RTA seems like a very personal experience, the rest of the album only cuts deeper. Lead singer Joe Talbot explains that the album is post-therapy, looking past rage and into himself. The lyrics now ponder along in silent reflection. Unfortunately, this leaves the band and listener twiddling their thumbs.
There are moments of high energy, but the lyrics are extremely personal, with metaphors and memories that fail to grab the listener, especially when lost in odd mixing choices, making the delivery even more unintelligible, lost. I understand it is part of the experience, it is not a new technique, nor a particularly necessary one. The same is said for the lyric work, I see the deeper meaning, but chanting random metaphors and excerpts simply do not work - the album blends a ball of confused lyrics, muddled mixing, and lost instrumentalists.
I feel bad to criticize this direction, which acts as a healthy release, but I think there was room for a balance, using the raging style as a means of management. I didn't value IDLES for the aggression, more the implacable stance against intolerance. Losing both, however, pushes IDLES into uncertain water with much bigger fishes.
Listen to the singles and decide if you can manage the whole album.