‘Joy…’ comes with a whole new sincerity, from guitar licks that hark back to late ’70s UK punk rock pioneers and the Mod revival scene (‘Rottweiler’) to globalised cult trailblazers Hüsker Dü (‘Great’). There’s no attempt to imitate a scene; it’s both a natural product of its Bristolian DIY heritage and a beacon for the all-inclusive punk-rock revival, recently revved up by releases from the likes of Protomartyr, Preoccupations and Iceage among others.
A defining trait of ‘Brutalism’ was its humour: ‘Rachel Khoo’ didn’t only complement IDLES’ curious sensibility to namecheck British chefs, but it found mischievous pleasure in quoting Lonnie Donegan’s ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ word for word. The same world brings you cutting lyrics like “you look like a walking thyroid” and “you’re one big neck with sausage hands” in the tentatively titled ‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’, before going on to quote ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’. Not even Nancy Sinatra (or maybe Jessica Simpson) is safe.
The peaks of ‘Joy’ are actually the slow moments – and arguably the peaks of IDLES’ discography so far. ‘June’ is a heart-wrenching track about the still-birth of Talbot and his partner’s daughter in 2017. Each iteration of the six-word story “Baby shoes for sale, never worn” sounds more painful, but determined for the story to be told. No subject is off-limits. Elsewhere, Talbot’s lyrics could be scrawled on cardboard protest signs, from searing critiques of the government to fighting against the millennial name-callers: “This snowflake’s an avalanche” (‘I’m Scum’). ‘Love Song’ quips absurdist romanticism that Ivor Cutler would be proud of – “I carried a watermelon, I wanna be vulnerable” – even a bizarre cover of the ’60s soul/ R&B classic ‘Cry To Me’ comes through as punk with compassion.
‘Joy…’ is a self-confessed parade. It’s a punch-up and it’s a bear hug. It’s a less chic release than ‘Brutalism’, but the curse-of-the-second-album is not even a consideration. Where vulnerability is a strength, the thunderous closing track ‘Rottweiler’ is a reminder to check-in. The last you hear is a faint yell: “keep going, keep fucking going”. If ‘Brutalism’ was a pub brawl, ‘Joy’ is a reflective effort to break-up the fight, if just for a second, and talk about things. It’s solidarity and painful sincerity. It’s a protest that continues to define IDLES as an articulate force – a message that sharing is mending.