IDLES – Ultra Mono: Album Review

Titling their new album Ultra Mono IDLES emphasises their no-frills approach. The sound of strength in numbers. As Joe Talbot says, “it’s vigorously IDLES.” Is there any other?

Release date: 25th September 2020

Label: Partisan Records

Format: DL / CD / LP

When you punch upwards and punch hard, there will always be plenty of people who try to smack you down again. When your tracks are drenched with trenchant issues of society and humanity, addressing them will steer some listeners into thinking you’re ultra moano and ultra Bono. And when you set out to “cater for the haters,” expressly serving them up a lovely spread of fayre they’ll inevitably find deeply unpalatable, you’re making yourself ultra Marmite.

But if you don’t like Marmite, then there’s no hope for you and lack of taste is a confirmed COVID symptom.

Balls to the idea of a difficult third album. Britain is difficult. The world is drowning in avoidable difficulty. Social media is one big chicken coop of pecking parties and plentiful verbal diarrhoea. What IDLES have done on their third album, Ultra Mono, is sustain a relentless sonic and lyrical tirade against a litany of global shitehawks and their objectionable ideologies, a tirade which concurrently serves as a wave of empowering elation upon which the listener can ride. As Joe Talbot sings on Grounds, it’s “the sound of strength in numbers.”

They’ve been criticised over and over for all the reasons you can find object to five white blokes, but in a world where our heads are full of the white noise of endless, restless frenetic buzz, layered with angry, shouty colonial throwbacks yearning for long-dead lifestyles, IDLES are the kind of red-faced shouters we could do with more, bearing down on adversaries and being willing to Kill Them With Kindness. Whenever Coronafaff has left the building, this album will eventually tour. The crazed, compassionate circle pit of all genders can concurrently chant “consent” on safe spaces anthem, Ne Touche Pas Moi (featuring Jehnny Beth).

Ultra Mono is relentless. Apart from thirty-five seconds of a Jamie Cullum piano intro part-way through, it takes thirty-eight minutes to give you room to catch your breath. Even then, with A Hymn, your breath may well just change from a pant into a sigh or a sob. Imagine having an uptempo playlist for a 10K run, hanging on for dear life by the time you’ve sped to 9K, needing Iggy Pop to come on with Lust For Life and then suddenly hearing Atmosphere by Joy Division instead.

‘Oh, but the lyrics, the lyrics are too simplistic’ shout those who don’t grasp the power of speaking the language of the people you’re trying to talk to. If you want poetry with verbosity, go and read some. There’s plenty out there. If you want something you can read with the ears, with a tight grasp of rhythm, rhyme and often meter, something more performative that stands up and delivers, then you’re in for plenty of energetic eardrum fun. The complaint that circulates about IDLES’ lyrics is the old whinge about Carter USM coming back round from the early 90s.

And if you don’t like Carter USM, then there’s no hope for you and lack of taste is a confirmed COVID symptom.

From the ‘Yikes! My bleeding eardrums’ opening on War, through the sheer attack at the end of Reigns, to the barrage of album closer, Danke, Ultra Mono is tachycardia in twelve easy stages. It has a similar feel to the best of The Prodigy – unapologetic, unself-conscious and unstoppable. Music to shake up the stilted and quilted generation.

Listen to Model Village below.

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