Bristol punks, IDLES, have returned with their fourth studio offering, CRAWLER. Their most interesting opus to date, there are flecks of Daughters, Bristol peers SCALPING, and some of that typical IDLES anger that first catapulted them into the hearts of listeners on their debut, 2017’s Brutalism.
The opener ‘MTT 420 RR’ is incredible. Atmospheric and brooding, the band have fully opened themselves up to the electronic, augmenting their music, and as frontman Joe Talbot repeats “are you ready for the storm?”, and as the song builds up to a crescendo, you know you’re in for a wild ride.
The following track, ‘The Wheel’, is classic IDLES, just with a sinister edge, I’m not kidding when I say musically, it’s similar to Deftones’ Koi No Yokan, which is brilliant. The song sees the band cast off the manacles of their early chapter in both the musical and production senses, and turn into the leviathan they always had the potential to be. The second single, ‘Car Crash‘, is also a clear reflection of this.
In a statement, Talbot says: “We want people who’ve gone through trauma, heartbreak, and loss to feel like they’re not alone, and also how it is possible to reclaim joy from those experiences.” Talbot retains his lyrical penchant for blending fury with the comedic, but it is his vocal delivery where he really comes to life. This is the most dramatic and interesting Talbot has ever been, and it does the band many favours. On ‘When the Lights Come On’, he really shines.
In terms of production, you see the hip-hop and electronic influences that IDLES hold dear really come to life. Recorded and co-produced by the man behind Vince Staples and Freddie Gibbs, Kenny Beats, in tandem with guitarist Mark Bowen, the album is a juxtaposition in the sense that it is the most raucous but restrained moment yet.
“I don’t really see us as a ‘rock band’ and working with Kenny (Beats) freed us of the idea of genre,” Talbot said. “On this album, our dissolution of ego was helped by Kenny’s humble nature and willingness to learn. He has boundless passion for making the best song possible. Not the best’ rock’ song — the best song possible.”
He explained: “It was writing selfishly that helped make it possible. Reflecting. Telling my own story. Not trying to tell everyone else’s story. Not trying to fix the world — just talking about how I am fixing mine.” This sentiment is what has freed the band, gone is the overdone, almost preachy sloganeering, and they’ve turned inwards, giving them a zest that they’ve up until this point left untapped.
Single ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ is a swooning piece of music, that may represent the most romantic that Bristol’s favourite sons have ever pushed themselves. ‘Meds’ is a wonderful piece of post-punk that confirms that this is still IDLES to all of the purists, but they’ve just taken a big leap forward, and a necessary one after the stagnation of 2020’s Ultra Mono.
Bassist Adam Devonshire’s basslines carry the entire album, and he’s really mixed his tone up. Again, it’s a breath of fresh air. The use of the dissonant saxophones on ‘Meds’ appeals to the King Crimson-esque style that was brought en vogue by Black Midi, and although it might seem contrived, it works really well. The song makes a strong claim for being the album’s highlight.
It’s on moments like ‘Kelechi’, a short electronic piece that segues into ‘Progress’ where you can really feel that IDLES have grown as a band, and the name is in the title. They’ve bounced back and produced something exceptional.
Album closer ‘The End’ is more traditional IDLES, a huge cacophony of music, Talbot is on fire during the track, and it’s a triumphant way to end the record: “Life is beautiful”, he screams. You can’t help but sense that the band knew they were on to a winner, and fair play, as they’ve earned it.