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Over the latter part of the 2010s, IDLES rose from Bristol locals to one of the biggest bands in the UK, and the five-piece have been releasing new music at a relentless pace since dropping their 2017 debut Brutalism.
With their fourth album CRAWLER coming out this Friday (12 November), we thought we’d take a look at some of their more underrated tracks, from the earlier EPs right up to their more recent material. Here’s our starting XI...
‘The Idles Chant’
Okay, so this one is a favourite among dedicated fans—you know, the ones who’ve been there since day one, appearing at every gig with their AF Gang badges—but it can be overlooked when it comes to the more casual listener.
It’s the second track on IDLES’ 2015 Meat EP, the first release on which we really heard their trademark sound, and it packs a serious punch both live and in the studio.
Before Meat, there was Welcome, and it would be unbecoming not to give it a mention here. While Meat gave us a real glimpse of IDLES’ punk sound, however, Welcome was very much an indie rock or post-punk release, being compared to the work of Editors and Interpol, among others.
Still, it’s a great collection of tracks, and one that listeners would do well to explore - and ‘Meydei’ is perhaps the highlight of the lot. Into the heavier side of indie? This one’s for you.
How many bands are putting in references to Rothko and Basquiat? On Brutalism, IDLES looked to set themselves apart from the rest, and they do just that on ‘Stendhal Syndrome’.
The track has IDLES’ trademark humour, and is named after the condition in which people are said to experience hallucinations, fainting and confusion when faced with famous artwork. “Forgive me you sound stupid/Here lies the one I love,” snarls Talbot over the furious work of his bandmates.
Towards the end of Brutalism, ‘White Privilege’ makes an explosive entrance, as Talbot touches on the decadence of his time in university—a bunch of students having fun and taking drugs and wasting other people’s taxes. “Always poor, never bored,” comes the refrain. Despite being tongue firmly in cheek and mocking their own experiences, it’s become a fan-favourite slogan, appearing on T-shirts and even as tattoos.
The repetitive chorus of “Swing batter batter batter,” and the “Yeah!/Dance ‘til the sun goes round,” outro have the sort of energetic frenzy and almost chanted style that would become more commonplace through the band’s later work: think ‘Danny Nedelko’ or ‘Mr. Motivator’.
Perhaps the most underrated track from 2018’s Joy As An Act of Resistance, ‘Gram Rock’ injects a touch of gallows humour into proceedings with the opening lines of: “I’m sorry your grandad’s dead/Ah, lovely spread”, while the band are busy getting into character as two coked-up bankers.
As Talbot explained to All Things Loud at the time: “It’s an imagined Dadaist scenario of two hedge fund city boys at a funeral off their face on coke.”
It’s also a very good song.
‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’
By the time Ultra Mono came out last year, IDLES had cemented their status as one of the UK’s biggest bands. The first of their albums to hit number one in the UK charts, many of us have heard the singles, but it’s still easy for some tracks to swim under the radar.
‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’ is one of them. Featuring Jehnny Beth in the chorus, it’s an intense affair that concentrates on bodily autonomy and consent - particularly at gigs—and the on-the-nose lyrics hammer the point home in this noise-rock track.
Another from Ultra Mono, ‘Danke’ ends the record—what is it with IDLES and these absolute sucker-punches of album closers?
‘Danke’ begins with a quote from a track by outsider pioneer Daniel Johnston, who died the day that Talbot was finishing off most of ‘Danke’’s lyrics: “True love will find you in the end/You will find out just who was your friend”.
The above is the main refrain throughout the track, and it feels like a fitting tribute to the American icon, but the outro is where it’s worth really sitting up and taking notice. Pure force, yet with an awful lot of heart.
Let’s take it back to 2011. David Cameron was Prime Minister, riots broke out across the country in the summer, and everyone was shuffling with LMFAO. Not only that, but in Bristol a band—though not the full quintet we’re used to—were busy putting out their first EP.
Not on Spotify, IDLES’ first EP is a little obscure, and rather different to their sound a decade on, but there’s some good stuff in there. ‘Thieves’ has a steady garage-rock rhythm that’s reminiscent of The Strokes and some groovy riffs that sound decidedly un-IDLES, but it’s a real gem in the Bristol band’s back catalogue.
Another from 2015’s Meat EP, ‘Queens’ is almost worth an inclusion just for the video alone. That said, it’s a standout song in its own right too. Opening Meat, it was the first real glimpse we had of ‘heavy’ IDLES, and what an introduction it is.
Its raw energy and distortion-filled lo-fi sound gives a grungy quality, and the track ends almost as suddenly as it begins, ushering in a new dawn for British rock.
This was actually a single from Ultra Mono, but it might slip under the radar when compared to other singles from the album. It slows things down slightly, more ballad-like than anything we’ve really seen from the band previously—as such, it might not have the initial earworm potential of their more ferocious or energetic tracks, but it’s moving and emotive, and packs a slightly different yet equally effective punch.
A powerful political statement, ‘I’m Scum’ certainly isn’t obscure, but it can easily be overshadowed by some of the other tracks on Joy As An Act of Resistance, like ‘Danny Nedelko’, ‘Samaritans’, and ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’.
Lyrics like “I’m Dennis Skinner’s molotov,” and “This snowflake’s an avalanche,” are up there with some of IDLES’ best, and this fighting punk track is one that’s a defiant response to critics who wrote the band off throughout their career.
CRAWLER arrives 12 Novemver via Partisan Records.
Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.
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