IDLES have taken the British punk scene by storm in the past couple of years. The Bristol lads formed the band in 2012 and released two EPs – Welcome and MEAT – from 2012 to 2015. It was in 2017 with the release of their first album Brutalism that they really started to make waves. Last year, they released their second album, Joy As An Act of Resistance, which was without question my favourite album of 2018. The album did not go unnoticed by the British press. The band was nominated for Best British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards this year. Singer Joe Talbot told BBC: “It makes sense in one way because we were number five in the album chart…On the other side it doesn’t feel right. Compared to the sales and money behind many pop acts…we’re a drop in the ocean.” IDLES lost out on the award to Tom Walker, but the band were in no way discouraged or disappointed. “We’d be the same band before or after a Brit Award, it’s meaningless…Being nominated is not meaningless. Us being part of the conversation, that’s the important bit,” stated Talbot.
That statement pretty much sums up what IDLES stand for. They’re in this to say something, not for the awards or the fame. Alongside their admirable realness and genuineness, IDLES have one of the best fan-bases I’ve come across and have been part of in a long time. The Facebook group “ALL IS LOVE: AF GANG (Idles Community)” has over 15,000 members and unsurprisingly is one of the most welcoming and accepting places in the music community. What’s even cooler is that the group basically formed itself organically. “First and foremost, we didn’t build that group, they built themselves. As a band, it gives us something to feel safe in…It’s like a gift that we’ve been given that we didn’t ask for and it’s amazing…We just hope that we can sustain that with our performance live and encourage other people to be vulnerable and feel safe at our shows,” says Joe on AF Gang. A recent post in the group called for members to vote in a poll to decide once and for all: What Is the Best IDLES Song? Here are the results. (Not to bore you with just song names, I’ve also included my favourite lyric from the songs and a little explanation of their meaning).
- 1049 Gotho
“There’s no right side of the bed / With a body like mine and a mind like mine.”
“1049 Gotho” is basically the IDLES anthem – obviously a fan favourite as it was voted number one by a pretty big majority. The song is a highlight of their debut album and discusses the topic of mental illness in a way that only IDLES can.
“Men are scared women will laugh in their face / Whereas women are scared it’s their lives men will take.”
“Mother” is an exploration of gender, politics and society. The lyric that I’ve quoted here is a paraphrased quote from Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” A powerful, powerful statement.
“If someone talked to you / The way you do to you / I’d put their teeth through / Love yourself.”
I think IDLES fans will all objectively agree that this is one of their most powerful lyrics. You wouldn’t think a song titled “Television” would preach self-love, but that’s IDLES for ya.
- Never Fight A Man With A Perm
“You’re not a man, you’re a gland / You’re one big neck with sausage hands.”
Hands down my favourite lyric of 2018. It’s ridiculous and weird but fits perfectly into this angry, Epitome-Of-Punk song. It can’t really be explained, it just is what it is.
- I’m Scum
“This snowflake’s an avalanche.”
A clever commentary that bites back at the negative connotations of the label “liberal snowflake” – mostly used in the rhetoric of right-wing v. left-wing politics. This lyric protests against that negativity, saying that enough “snowflakes” could create a mighty movement.
- Danny Nedelko
“He’s made of you, he’s made of me / Unity!”
“Danny Nedelko” has become an anthem of unity for all in the IDLES community. Joe’s lyrics talk of immigration – a hot topic of the last few years – and urge people to come to the conclusion that we are all human, we are all equal, regardless of race or origin.
“I’m a real boy, boy and I cry / I love myself and I want to try.”
“Samaritans” is an analysis of the concept and effects of toxic masculinity. The song repeats phrases that are often said to young men that are perceived as being too emotional and need to “man up.” In this lyric, Joe is admitting that he doesn’t adhere to these gender norms. He is telling men it is okay to feel comfortable being emotional.
“I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins.”
I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’ve recently gotten into wrestling that made me pick this lyric but I just love it. Steve Austin, famous American wrestler, has openly made statements in the past supporting gay-marriage. This lyric may be a reference to Austin’s “Buried Alive” match against The Undertaker, in which he buried him alive (just in case you don’t know: wrestling is fake, he didn’t actually bury a man alive). There is no evidence that The Undertake is homophobic, however, it is a very clever analogy to use for a lyric.
“I want to move into a Bovis home / And make a list of everything I own.”
Bovis homes are known in the UK for looking very homogenous and similar to each other. Here, Joe appears to be telling us that he is ready to assimilate into society and be just like everyone else. The title of the song “Heel/Heal” aligns the idea of obeying and surviving. Perhaps, being the same as everyone else is a way to survive…but how happy does it make you in the end?
- Well Done
“Why don’t you get a job? / Even Tarquin’s got a job / Mary Berry’s got a job / So why don’t you get a job?”
“Well Done” is a commentary on the long running issue of class-politics in Britain. This line is an address to the classist ideology that poor people are poor because they simply don’t work “hard enough.” “Tarquin” is a slang term for someone who is posh, entitled and looks down on the lower classes. “Mary Berry” was a judge on the Great British Bake Off, a sort of icon of the English bourgeois in itself.