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IDLES - Ultra Mono (Album Review)

Wednesday, 30 September 2020 Written by Laura Johnson

Photo: Tom Ham

Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Equally, being confident and insecure are not mutually exclusive, neither are being offensive and offended. These dichotomies run through IDLES’ third album, ‘Ultra Mono’, where they consistently say both fuck you and thank you.

The record serves as a snapshot of the process that followed touring on 2018’s ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’, where IDLES overcame mental and physical exhaustion to embrace their collective identity in the face of their critics. They resolved to do what makes them happy. “We are derivative, we are everything we love and that is beautiful,” reads a message on the inlay of the LP.

“I is I and I intend to GO GO GO!” shouts frontman Joe Talbot on Mr. Motivator, later goading, “How d’you like them cliches?” It’s a line that begs to be delivered chin out, but it’s also the antithesis of its tracklist neighbour, Anxiety, where Talbot is overwhelmed.

Throughout IDLES explore the spectrum of emotions as they relate to individuality, culture and politics, from a tongue-in-cheek satire of small-mindedness on Model Village, to disdain for those who have created an era of austerity on Carcinogenic. On Reigns, Talbot spits his hatred for the blue-blooded: “How does it feel to have shanked the working classes down to dust?”

When Talbot gets it right lyrically, he really lands it. But having largely dreamed up his words on the spot in the studio there are some absolute clangers here, from “That’s the sound of the gun going bang bang” on WAR to his barking on Kill Them With Kindness. They don’t sit well atop the high calibre of music on display. 

The band have evolved sonically, with Jon Beavis’s drumming tighter, more dynamic and driven. Alongside him Adam Devonshire explores chest-rattling basslines, and guitarists Lee Kiernan and Mark Bowen have sharpened their scalpels on riffs that would have been left ragged in the past. 

Elsewhere, hip hop producer Kenny Beats was called in to assist with programming, helping the band achieve one of their goals: embracing the essence of a hip hop album. That sought after urgency is found on the Jehnny Beth collaboration Ne Touche Pas Moi, a forthright lesson in consent that takes its chorus from a line in one of Talbot’s favourite films, Dirty Dancing.

IDLES never take themselves too seriously. In one breath they’re the embodiment of the ‘Live. Laugh. Love’ mantra, no sarcasm intended, and in another they go for the jugular. It’s what’s endeared them to their loyal fanbase and sparked controversy over their intentions. They’ve been put on a pedestal they’d rather kick the legs from under, but Talbot finds the ideal response as the record winds down: “Fuck you, I’m a lover.”

IDLES Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon April 12 2021 - SOUTHAMPTON 1865
Tue April 13 2021 - PORTSMOUTH Guildhall
Thu April 15 2021 - BRIGHTON Concorde 2
Fri April 16 2021 - HULL Adelphi
Sat April 17 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Boiler Shop
Mon April 19 2021 - DUNDEE Fat Sams
Tue April 20 2021 - LEEDS Beckett University Union
Thu April 22 2021 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Fri April 23 2021 - LONDON Pryzm
Sun April 25 2021 - BRISTOL Louisiana
Mon April 26 2021 - BRISTOL Louisiana
Fri May 07 2021 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Sat May 08 2021 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Sun May 09 2021 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Mon May 10 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 City Hall, Newcastle
Wed May 12 2021 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena Cardiff
Thu May 13 2021 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Fri May 14 2021 - SHEFFIELD O2 Academy Sheffield
Sun May 16 2021 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Mon May 17 2021 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Tue May 18 2021 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Thu May 20 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester
Fri May 21 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester
Sat May 22 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester
Fri June 18 2021 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat June 19 2021 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sun June 20 2021 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Mon June 21 2021 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton

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