IDLES performing at Glastonbury 2019Wikimedia Commons / Simoncromptonreid /

It’s 2018. My clothes stink of Strongbow dark fruits and the cigarette I stole from someone too old to be hanging out with secondary school students. Sweaty from the mosh pit, awaiting the next band, a pounding drum ripples through the crowd. It’s the opening of ‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm.’ Its siren-like riff and call-to-war vocals instantly intrigued me, and overrode the embarrassment of Shazaming a track at a live gig. This was how I discovered Bristol rock band, IDLES, and their fifth studio album, TANGK, took me right back to that moment.

“However, where sociopolitical rage was often at the heart of their early work, this album shifts away from that, turning instead to love.”

The record boasts IDLES’ characteristic mosh pit sound, with lead singer Joe Talbot’s gritty, regional yell throwing you into the crowd. The lead single, ‘Gift Horse,’ illustrates this best, as Talbot roars through gritted teeth catchy lines that I can already hear in worn-out teenage voices. The song sizzles with rebellious sentiments and a peppering of IDLES’ plucky political focus as Talbot recants “ask us to sing your empire songs, she laughs, tells you where I’m from.” However, where sociopolitical rage was often at the heart of their early work, this album shifts away from that, turning instead to love.

In ‘Hall & Oates,’ Talbot is accompanied by the rest of the band as they yell “I love my man.” In IDLES’ classic plain-talking fashion, the track spotlights brotherly affection as a heavy overdrive guitar explodes underneath. Lead guitarist, Mark Bowen, has always had an ear for riffs bursting with aggression, and his work on this record is no exception. Deep, grumbling bass is a staple in TANGK, forming the backdrop against which Talbot details his search for a sweaty nightclub dance partner in ‘Dancer.’ Once again, devotion and adoration take the wheel, as Talbot chants ‘I give myself to you as long as you move on the floor.’

“TANGK is an illustration of the band’s powerhouse status in producing high-energy, distinctive rock.”

Yet between these high-energy anchor points, the album sinks to emotional depths where its thematic soul can really be found. ‘Grace’ trades shouty grit for a softness, found both in Talbot’s singing and the gentleness of Jon Beavis’ drumming. Released as a single alongside ‘Dancer’ and ‘Gift Horse,’ this track established the album as something beyond what we expect from IDLES. The lyricism pivots from the straight-talking, no fluff approach of previously mentioned tracks, becoming instead more artistic with lines like ‘please caress my swollen heart’ and the tagline of the album, ‘love is the thing.’ This mantra is repeated in the spoken word outro to ‘POP POP POP,’ which layers multiple, out-of-sync voices before coalescing on a single word: ‘love.’

My introduction to IDLES was 2018’s rage-filled Joy as an Act of Resistance, where Talbot’s songwriting lurched out from his anger at the world. TANGK is different. Fondness and romanticism fuel this record, opening up a softer side, complete with an emotional piano ballad, ‘A Gospel.’

Just as I have grown up since my after school indie gig days, so too have IDLES. Their 2021 album, CRAWLER re-introduced them as not just musicians, but artists. And successful artists at that, earning them Grammy nominations for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance. TANGK is a continuation of that growth, bringing a newfound depth and variety.

Their artistic focus can limit their replay value, with the opening track ‘IDEA 1’ being a perfect album opener but a poor addition to your playlist. But a song like ‘Roy’ offers an excellent fusion of their commercially loved aggression and their newfound vulnerability. Almost unrecognisable as Talbott, the softer verses cushion his undeniable power for projection, as he desperately yells “baby, I’m a smart man but I’m dumb for you.” This is bolstered by the shift from intermittent plucking to a fizzling reverb and the frantic drums. IDLES demonstrate their desire to expand beyond the agitated rock of their youth, introducing emotional ballads alongside it.


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Yet how exactly this mature IDLES will sound is unclear. In the delicate final track, ‘Monolith,’ you can feel the influence of producer Nigel Goodrich who has worked extensively with Radiohead. A regular, four note sequence anchors slow ambient shifts backing before fading to a saxophone to close the album. Despite heartfelt lyrics epitomising the record’s vulnerability, its sound is disconnected from the rock-rap fusion of ‘POP POP POP’ or the explosive dynamism of ‘Jungle.’ Though all are strong individual tracks, their relationship to one another is weaker.

IDLES, themselves though, remain the antithesis of weakness. TANGK is an illustration of the band’s powerhouse status in producing high-energy, distinctive rock. Yet their talent for vulnerability blossoms in the poetic lyricism and musical beauty of the album as well. Far from the support act you google when you get home, IDLES have matured into the band you set out to see, with TANGK illustrating a versatility deserving of an entire set list.