Idles frontman Joe Talbot unleashes compassionate plea on Ultra Mono

RAW: Idles are, from left, Mark Bowen (guitar), Jon Beavis (drums), Joe Talbot (vocals), Adam Devonshire (bass), Lee Kiernan (guitar).
RAW: Idles are, from left, Mark Bowen (guitar), Jon Beavis (drums), Joe Talbot (vocals), Adam Devonshire (bass), Lee Kiernan (guitar).

ONCE upon a time the UK's punk bands were urging anarchy or the downfall of the monarchy.

Today they preach self-love, acceptance and compassion. They're more likely to cuddle their audience than spit on them. Perhaps that's more punk given the political tensions infecting the world.

Undoubtedly the leaders of the pack in Britain's latest post-punk revival is Bristol five-piece Idles. A band who over the course of two critically-acclaimed albums Brutalism (2017) and Joy As An Act Of Resistance (2018) have amassed a rabid global following, and positioned themselves as arguably most important rock band in the Old Dart.

The albums addressed the death of vocalist Joe Talbot's mother and first daughter - who was born stillborn - plus universal themes like toxic masculinity, male rage, Brexit, nationalism and inequality. There was also a healthy dose of black comedy.

On Friday Idles released their third album Ultra Mono, a forceful manifesto to positive change and self-development backed by their typically abrasive industrial punk sound. It's the equivalent of offering a warm hug wrapped in a Glasgow kiss.

The charismatic and eloquent Talbot, on first glance, is menacing. Heavily-tattooed, bearded and possessing a snarling vocal that sits somewhere between John Lydon and an English Gareth Liddiard. However, there's also a deep emotional maturity at play.

The 36-year-old admits he was a horrible younger man, often dominated by drugs, alcohol and violence. Through Idles he's found a positive outlet to channel his rage.

Talbot tells Weekender he has undergone a process of existential growth from Brutalism and Joy As An Act Of Resistance, which prepared him for Ultra Mono.

"Joy was the start of that conversation," Talbot says. "It was learning to talk about things, like person-centred therapy where you talk openly about your problems or your down periods and why you feel loss or anger or sadness and you become OK with that.

"Ultra Mono is about using that energy to make something positive and beautiful and progress and go forward."

Talbot describes Ultra Mono as Idles' best album to date. It's hard to argue. From the abrasive opener War where Talbot makes the forceful declaration of "Wa-ching!/ That's the sound of the sword going in", to the fragile The Hymn where he sings, "I lost 10 pounds for the wedding/ I played happy til my teeth hurt," it's an electrifying ride.

Ultra Mono isn't so much a departure from Joy, but a refining of Idles' sound and purpose.

Talbot entered the vocal booth without pre-written lyrics, preferring to ab-lib to the sound of his band.

It resulted in some typically colourful pop culture references, such as, "Like Kathleen Hanna with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy" and "Like David Attenborough clubbing seal clubbers with LeBron James," from Mr Motivator.

Idles - Mr Motivator

Idles' outspoken commitment to progressive views have drawn criticism from those on the right and left of the political spectrum. Earlier this year Jason Williamson, the vocalist from UK electronic-punk duo Sleaford Mods accused Idles of appropriating working-class politics.

Talbot makes no apologies for being overly political, particularly as Idles rise in popularity. He says any real artist should feel compelled to use their voice and platform for positive means.

"To create feeling in your audience is positive, whether it's sadness or rage or whatever," he says. "It's still a positive outcome and it's the dialogue that you want.

"So, yeah, we've made change and we've created a dialogue with our audience and we make people feel things and that's all we can ask for."

Idles have also been criticised for producing aggressive punk music that can encourage hyper-masculine men to violently dance in mosh pits. Talbot argues it's a means to deliver a message of love and compassion to those who need to hear it.

"Popular culture is violent," he says. "Advertising companies are violent. All advertising campaigns are violent.

UNLIKELY LADS: Idles formed in 2009 but didn't find success until their 2017 debut album Brutalism.

UNLIKELY LADS: Idles formed in 2009 but didn't find success until their 2017 debut album Brutalism.

"Sticking a giant billboard in poor areas around the world telling them their life isn't good enough, they're not beautiful enough, young enough, rich enough to be happy. That's a violent act.

"You need to look at the major radio stations and pop music within, it is violent. The images of perfection and projections that most people will never be able to obtain, so they go through life feeling inadequate.

"We wanted to cut through that with violence. That means being as impactful as possible and that's what Ultra Mono is about."

Ultra Mono is widely tipped to crack No.1 on the UK charts and solidify a place for the rag-tail misfits from Bristol in the top echelon of British acts. How does Talbot define success?

"I wanna be Radiohead, I wanna be Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds," he says. "I wanna be able to develop our artistic language and explore and change, evolve with every album to the point we can keep doing this until we retire, which is me when I'm six-feet under.

"I want to spread the message of self-empowerment and empathy as a form of killing fascism forever. The bigger the audience, the more love and empathy we can create."

This story Post-punk Idles for a new world reordered first appeared on Newcastle Herald.