Album review: Idles – Ultra Mono
- Credit: Archant
Britain’s feted heroes return with another slab of searing social commentary and seismic rock.
Idles sure had a challenge on their hands with Ultra Mono, following up the stratospheric success of 2018’s Joy As An Act Of Resistance, which not only planted them on the cultural vanguard and the top end of the charts, but also bagged them a Brit Award and an Ivor Novello award for Best Album.
A sold-out headline date at Ally Pally, and this album’s recording sessions, both came just as the tendrils of Covid-19 began to unfurl at the end of 2019, so there’s no reference to its devastating effect on society (though the cover art is an effective metaphor).
The release follows two live-streamed performances from the legendary Abbey Road studios at the end of August, and it remains reassuringly full of vitriolic sneer, blunt, confrontational social commentary and brutal punk-rock assaults.
This time there’s a sprinkling of big-name contributors, too – you’d be hard pushed to spot jazz-pop maestro Jamie Cullum, actor and Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow and Bad Seed Warren Ellis, but Savages’ Jehnny Beth lends the XX chromosomes and vocal heft necessary for Ne Touche Pas Moi to squarely land its punches.
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War opens the record with the thrilling trio of thundering staccato drums, excoriating, nails-down-a-chalkboard guitar and Talbot’s unmistakable gargled roar, while Grounds’ oppressive, robotic guitar is paired with what sounds like Soft Cell’s Tainted Love synth, in a compelling call to arms – frontman Joe Talbot dishing out the line: “Not a single thing has ever been mended / By you standing there saying you’re offended”.
But after what appears to be a breathless start – through Mr Motivator’s serrated guitars and hollers to “seize the day” – neither the brutal motorik of Kill Them With Kindness nor Anxiety’s blunderbuss drum-and-guitars pack quite the same incisive panache and punchy riffage.
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The record rallies, though. Danke’s defiant cry of support and encouragement is hammered out over a hard-but-jangly guitar riff and some percussive drumstick work, while squealing trumpets underscore Talbot’s snarls in the darkly unsteady class war polemic Reigns.
In Model Village his wrath is aimed at the soft underbelly of Middle England, arch lyrics lambasting its casual racism and twitching curtains – an easy target, but no less enjoyable for it.
Ultra Mono might not quite match it predecessor, but it burns with a political and moral fire that few artists dare to light.
Rating: 4/5 stars