Joy as an Act of Resistance, by IDLES
Suggested by Claire Haggar
In my university band, the eponymous Badger, we had a Steve.
Not many bands have a Steve. The Happy Mondays have a Steve, although their Steve is called Bez. I guess that, as the Happy Mondays are more famous than Badger, we should say that we had a Bez. But our Bez was called Steve, ergo we had a Steve.
Steve was six-foot-four, as wide as he was tall, with a devilish smile on his gurning moon of a face. He’d leap and limbo, shimmy and shake through every one of our funked-up numbers, banging his helmet and waving his voodoo stick all the while. He’d whip himself into a frenzy, and drag the crowd along for the ride.
Sometimes, we’d give Steve the mic, and he’d “sing.” His song of choice? Bright Lights Big City. But in his hands, that mic would become a dagger, and he’d slash and butcher that song until it was nothing more than a quivering mass of blood and sinew lying on the floor. The crowd didn’t care, and neither did the band. It was giddy, glorious fun.
Steve was brilliant.
IDLES have a Steve. Their Steve is called Joe.
However, instead of giving Joe a helmet and a voodoo stick and having him dance in the corner until it’s time to murder the encore, the band have given him the microphone full time, and placed him front and centre.
For a while, it works, and it’s spectacular. IDLES belt out dirty post-punk hardcore sounds, over which Joe gurns and churns and barks their bleak and downtrodden tales, full of urban decay. It’s harsh, but lyrical, and not without wit. It displays a gritty common touch, as if the Arctic Monkeys have downed a bottle of Aldi vodka and are looking to glass someone. It’s energetic, and raw, and vibrant, and exhilarating.
The first five tracks are blinders. There’s the pro-immigration football chant of Danny Nedelko, the blistering left-wing council-house anthem I’m Scum, the subverted ballad Love Song, and the cinematic and ominous opener Colossus. And then there’s my standout track, with a Top 10 All time standout title, Never Fight A Man With A Perm. A poetic tale of bar-side savagery and machismo.
Through these five songs, Joe powers out a Full Steve performance, and you can’t help but be swept under the IDLES avalanche. Having a Steve as a front man shouldn’t work, but who knows, maybe their punk band status will see them pull it off?
Unfortunately, inevitably, it can’t last. The energy and intensity begins to fade with June, and through Samaritans, and while there’s a valiant effort to drag things back up the mountain in songs like Television, Gram Rock and Rottweiller, the spark has faded a touch too much. Joe’s delivery and passion is perfect for a short burst, but it gets tiresome when it’s unrelenting.
I started high on this album. Had it ended after track 5, it’d be an easy eight. But as it stands, I give Joy as an Act of Rebellion a passable 6/10. If your Steve sings all the songs, all the songs will sound the same.