IDLES have dropped their new album, Crawler, via Partisan Records, and it is a white-knuckled return to compelling punk-rock mayhem for the band who disappointed fans with last year’s Ultra Mono.
The album opens with pulsing bass in ‘MTT 420 RR’, a song that sets up several themes for the record: invigorating bass drones, story-spinning lyrics, and a dragging pace like a man running from a wolf with a broken foot. For an opening track it’s almost a shock to the seasoned IDLES listener. There’s a distinct scarcity of guitar and you’re waiting for a break that doesn’t come. It’s like black water boiling under a thin plate of glass. It pulls open this huge, barren space, like walking through an abandoned shopping centre in the middle of the night.
Whilst steadily holding its ground, the first half of the record doesn’t seem to know exactly where it’s going. It’s lyrically strong without feeling overly self-conscious like Ultra Mono often does, with frontman Joe Talbot grappling with the cycle of alcoholism in relation to his own mother in ‘The Wheel.’ Meanwhile he offers a piercing criticism of the government’s comments about those in the arts and media sectors retraining during the pandemic on ‘The New Sensation.’ But sonically, it can feel directionless.
Listening for the first time and not knowing what’s on the way, it’s a bit like being lost in the middle of an unknown city where every direction looks the same, and you think you’ve been on this corner already. The songs build up but for too long or to nothing, and whilst this builds tension, the whole point of tension is to release it at the right moment.
My first true high point isn’t until the seventh track, bigger and more catastrophic than its predecessors, ‘The Beachland Ballroom.’ It cuts right through. It’s a gritted-teeth waltz that finally seems to answer the tension that had been mounting to that point, and past that the album’s like someone’s cut the brakes and pushed the car down the hill.
Immediately following is ‘Crawl!’ with the sardonic refrain of: “I’m feeling mani-f***ing-fique.” It’s a song about scraping along on your knees and refusing to give up, which sounds a bit cliché, but it’s true IDLES stuff. Listen to it.
That hill I was talking about flattens out a little around ‘Progress’, a slow, echoing soundscape that goes on for a little bit too long. Talbot’s got you trapped with him in what feels like his special private limbo, that abandoned shopping centre no one’s around to drag him out of.
The road turns into a cliff, however, with my favourite song of the album, ‘Wizz.’ It’s thirty seconds long of pure, heart-pounding punk-rock noise as Talbot recites texts from his drug dealer. The pace doesn’t let up again with ‘King Snake’, and all that power bleeds right into the end of the record.
Album finishers are usually either sad, wet and weepy or gigantic, orchestral powerhouses that leave your heart pounding when they burn out into silence. ‘The End’ takes the latter approach. After all the hard slog of the album, sharp edges and stories of grim times, Talbot is screaming: “In spite of it all / Life is beautiful.” It makes the hair on my arms stand on end. It’s the kind of song you want to be so loud that you can’t hear yourself yelling along to the lyrics.
Crawler sees IDLES come back swinging, and proving they’re worth the fanatic following they’ve gained since their first studio album Brutalism in 2017. It’s an album of stony greys and moody blues with the occasional fever-pitch acid-red tone. It’s an album that’s ultimately building the monument of IDLES’ discography, rather than relaying the same old stuff and having them fizzle out into irrelevancy. Ultimately, it’s an album that makes you wish you could get your hands on a bloody ticket, but their UK shows are completely sold out already!
Listen to the album on Spotify here.