Friday, December 1, 2023
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IDLES – Ultra Mono Review

IDLES are back, pumped up once again with anger, spite and politically inspired songs. Their latest album, Ultra Mono will be a comfortable return for fans of the band, but could easily be marketed towards those who have yet to hear what the band have to offer. In a politically tumultuous time, it feels like the band are cashing in on the ruminating issues that surround us by writing relatively strong songs about just about anything. It’s a mixed bag, but one that provides more hits than misses.  

Opening with War, and never backing down from their heavy-hitting, obvious messages, IDLES find themselves dancing with old and new themes, some that featured heavily on their old album, but some that give the brand a fresh kick that sounds more and more like they’re trying to revive the post-punk scene. Model Village screams of post-punk influence, simplistic lyrics that can barely keep up with the beat provided. It’s an incredible sound to bear witness to, a culmination of simple storytelling and shrieking, grand proclamations about how village life is a stifling horror show filled with “gammon, saluting flags just because it’s British”. It’s on the nose, but it’s incredibly well performed.  

The songs themselves are strong, it’s the messaging that needs a bit of work. War is a solid song, a great guitar riff underneath a torrent of rage and obvious anti-war messaging. It just feels a bit on the nose, and the lyrics aren’t as poetic as you’d want them to be for such a strong cast of talent. Aggressive sarcasm can be found around every corner, and it’s a matter of trial and error for the band as they see what sticks, throwing everything they have at their third album in four years. It’s nice to see they can still innovate though, some slower, piano keys are thrown in out of the blue for the opening of Kill Them With Kindness, the albums strongest offering, before devolving into the heavy rock we’ve come to expect from Joe Talbot and company. Incredibly well-crafted mini-solos, an engaging, steady drumbeat that accelerate the strained vexation to be found throughout. It just doesn’t mask the rather bland, predictable venom spouted at all the right targets.

As the album continues, it becomes obvious that IDLES offer up primitive political ideas, but without any depth to them. Throwing out the odd line about Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, or equality, but not having the mettle to back it up with some heart or a sense of direction. Pop culture references, austerity, and relevant topics stuck on the mind of independent music fans, but IDLES are either too afraid to delve into these issues deeper, or just feel that a good set of notes is enough to put these thriving political issues to rest. In fact, their strongest songs are the ones that deal with rejection and romance, Anxiety in particular has a solid story arc to it, with some heavier moments littered throughout with the choked anger only Joe can provide.  

Consistent, solid, but lacking that manic anger found on Joy as an Act of Resistance, or the experimentalism of Brutalism, where the band were still finding their footing. There’s still a lot to work with here, a good release, but IDLES are slowly turning into a band that are engulfed in their own anger. After three albums of resentment, collating the strength of the annoyed majority, it’s starting to grow a bit tiresome, especially when the lyrics aren’t up to scratch and the message isn’t delved into deeper than an accessible, standard style of prose. But that’s exactly what the album is, accessible to just about everyone, from seasoned fans to the average passer-by with even the slightest interest in this rage-filled five-piece. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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