The day I started writing this review my girlfriend passed out in the bathroom, half-drowned in toilet water and ended up in A&E for a brain scan; yet after one listen to IDLES third album Ultra Mono, it became clear that I’m not nearly as stressed out as frontman Joe Talbot.
IDLES work has flirted with activism before, but Ultra Mono is a thoroughly political album, the unashamed lyrics tearing into an endless list of social inequalities. The songs are powerful, although some of the ideas do fall short. The command, “don’t read The Sun” and addressing policeman as “gammon” in “Model Village” feel eye-rollingly obvious, even for a lefty student. Listening to the album as a whole can feel like a marathon, with Talbot’s slurring vocals and the rehashing of points akin to listening to a drunken rant in a smoking area. Even if you agree with it, it feels a bit awkward, forced to smile and nod while you eye up the exit.
Despite this, the points repeated by Talbot remain clear, candid, and absolutely true. Lines like “consent, consent, consent” and “black is beautiful” refuse to be ignored or misinterpreted, and the repetition across the album certainly conveys where IDLES stand on these issues. There are some attempts to inject light-heartedness and they often work well. The description of “Connor McGregor with a samurai sword on roller blades” is IDLES at their best, although it does feel wrong to laugh following the earnest descriptions of racism in protest song “Grounds;” a testament to the evocative ways that Talbot addresses these issues.
Ultra Mono’s focus on politics is sure to cause some sour faces amongst apolitical fans, and the repetition of political statements can feel a bit heavy-handed, but it’s pretty apparent that IDLES don’t care. A first listen to the entire album can feel like sensory overload, but it might be one of the most honest and frank political albums ever created. If IDLES aimed to offer a scathing look at the world around us, they hit the nail on the head.