By Oscar Ross, First Year History
Introspective to the point of self-deprecation, CRAWLER sees IDLES explore more poignant themes and sounds, all while keeping their signature manic and raucous feel.
At the eye of the CRAWLER storm lies IDLES frontman, Joe Talbot. Renowned for his open and raw musical approach, CRAWLER provides a further insight into the post-punk figurehead’s life, as well as a new thematic direction for him and the band. While earlier albums showcased IDLES post-punk swagger in terms of outward aggression, CRAWLER focuses inward to tales of Talbot’s addiction and depression. This is clear from the outset of the album with the start track ‘MTT 420 RR’ featuring growing layers hypnotic retro synths and the repeated haunting line ‘It was February, I was cold and I was high’. Not only does this track immediately show listeners the new sounds of the album, it also shows Talbot’s narrative at the centre of the album.
Talbot’s personal struggles are further addressed across the album with different musical approaches: the scorching and poignant ‘Beachland Ballroom’, the driving ‘When the Lights Come On’ and the pure chaos of ‘Car Crash’. The most outward of these is ‘King Snake’, an upbeat and confident headbanger with continuous lyrics describing Talbot’s self-proclaimed feelings of worthlessness, with lyrics such as ‘I’m a God of zilch, a vacuum of thought’. This style is heavily reminiscent of sounds from Joy as an Act of Resistance; there is a maintenance of the classic IDLES sound amidst the themes of CRAWLER which cater to the band’s fanbase.
While the intensely personal themes addressed in the album draws listeners in, being moved and taken aback by Talbot’s incredibly open lyrics, the most important feature of the album is the nod to previous albums. Joy as an Act of Resistance was a post-punk genre popularising moment that defined IDLES as a band, shouting at the world to address their darker and deranged side. This was followed by ULTRA MONO, which was an accurate caricature of what the band had become following their growing fanbase. But CRAWLER marks a musical deconstruction of the band and the start of something new for IDLES. The band have essentially had a taste of their own medicine, and are now addressing their darker side.
The introduction of new electronic beats weaved into IDLES driven rock sounds on ‘MTT 420 RR’, ‘Kelechi’ and ‘Progress’ signifies something new and exciting for the band. However, the two stylistic sides of the album don’t feel consistently integrated with one another; some songs such as ‘Meds’, ‘Wizz’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ remaining in the classic ULTRA MONO formula and more electronic tracks ‘Kelechi’ and ‘Progress’ seeming to lose grip on IDLES’ signature raw and unhinged feel.
That being said, CRAWLER shows truly significant musical and thematic shifts to IDLES’ style. This can be attributed to their growth as a band – specifically Talbot and lead guitarist Lee Kiernan’s sobriety. Prior to his recent two years of therapy, Talbot’s anger was directed outwards, but there is a new shift in an introspective direction for his untapped musical rage, resulting in CRAWLER. Talbot is also far more vocally expressive on the album, maintaining his drawling and gritty voice but also exploring his range as a vocalist, with a softer singing voice on songs such as ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ and ‘MTT 420 RR’.
The band’s movement can also be attributed to the increased involvement of Kenny Beats, who facilitated the classic IDLES sound on ULTRA MONO, and is now pushing the band to its musical limits in producing an entire album, forging a closer connection with Talbot in particular. In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Kenny recalled the recording of ‘The Beachland Ballroom’, remarking how Talbot wrote and recorded the intense and heart wrenching vocals in one singular take, having ‘already broken around 30 grands worth of microphones’ on previous tracks. Kenny also noted that on ‘Car Crash’ he had to stand a foot away from Talbot’s face and stare him down in order to get the take right. This shows the intimacy of the album not only in its writing and delivery but also in recording and production.
On CRAWLER, IDLES aren’t just a shouting punk-driven band from Bristol anymore, nor are they something completely different to what they have been on previous albums. They are making steps to becoming something new, and fans shouldn’t only be excited, but proud of the band's growth as both musicians and people, embodied by this new album. Essentially: IDLES are dead, but long live IDLES.
Featured image: Partisan Records LLC
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