Bristol’s punk rock titans IDLES are back with their fourth studio album, ‘CRAWLER’, just 14 months on from their last release.
Seemingly keen to correct the artistic errors on ‘Ultra Mono’, the five-piece have created a sound that displays their entire range and captures their most authentic self.
CRAWLER runs at an extensive 46 minutes, over the course of 14 songs, and will intimidate even the most loyal IDLES fans on first listen.
It’s essential to give it more than one spin, however.
What is lost on the first play – the clarity of lyrics, more subtle guitar licks and the album’s overall flow – delivers in full when returned to.
And there is just so much to explore, too.
CRAWLER is an album about addiction and isolation – particularly in the context of the pandemic – but more so about recovery and mental fortitude.
Through an introduction about a motorcyclist who nearly caused his own death, to tales of the pharmaceutical industry’s profiteering and an addict’s relationship with his dealer, the narrative arc is diverse and brutally honest.
Importantly, it’s not all doom and gloom either.
IDLES are best when they’re empowering, energetic and pointed, and there’s plenty of material here that ticks all three boxes.
Admittedly, the first material that is unmistakably IDLES-y only comes on the fifth track, but that’s a positive.
In the following run of tracks, from ‘The New Sensation’ to ‘Meds’, we are treated to five songs that are all new classics for the band.
But let’s start at the beginning.
In ‘MTT 420 RR’ and ‘The Wheel’, the album opens up on a sombre note.
The brooding instrumentals and slightly indistinguishable vocals are far from typical for the band, and in any other circumstances I would say these two tracks should be cut, but they play a role here.
We’re on a darker, deeper-cutting journey than on any other IDLES album here, so it’s appropriate that the tone is established early.
Certainly, if you haven’t got the point by the first three songs, then you will by the arrival of ‘Car Crash’.
Featuring the most annoying opening you’ll hear this year, the song expresses no desire to be loved.
With a banging chorus and superb drums and bass by the end, though, you can’t deny it draws you in deeper.
The next run of songs, as aforementioned, is faultless.
The New Sensation; classic IDLES, with witty, pointed lyrics taking a jibe at the powers that be.
‘Stockholm Syndrome’; an excellent first verse, refocusing on the addiction theme.
‘Beachland Ballroom’; guttural, soulful, and as covered previously, entirely lovable.
‘Crawl!’; the breakout star of the album, capturing the overarching theme with infectious positive energy.
Meds; look out for a fascinating final verse that only builds on a beautiful endorsement of sobriety and family values.
This run comes to an end at the correct point, and next, we have ‘Kelechi’ and ‘Progress’; two tracks essentially rolled into one.
The former is an instrumental interlude, bridging the gap from the furious to the mournful.
In Progress, we explore the feeling of not wanting to return to normality; longing for another hit of whatever it is that’s so intoxicating.
Some of the most playful guitar work you’ll see in any of IDLES’ discography is found here, and it chimes beautifully with Talbot’s meditative lyrical tone to create a sense of floating in the moment.
That’s the thing with CRAWLER; it allows the band to be their usual explorative selves, but develops their control – necessary after what the band retrospectively deemed as excesses on ‘Ultra Mono’.
The album’s closing stages provide a great example of this.
‘Wizz’ is a hilarious, shouty 30-second interlude of the text messages Talbot received from his old drug dealer, and sets things up nicely for ‘King Snake’.
Here we have a celebration of being nothing, and maybe not taking it all so seriously.
An evolution from previous albums, this is not self-deprecation, but self-awareness.
And at last, we come to an end, saccharinely, with ‘The End’.
Talbot reflected on how the main affirmation in the song, ‘In spite of it all / Life is beautiful’, was a take on the end of Leon Trotsky’s days.
It probably couldn’t be more IDLES.
A solid enough final chapter, it fits the brief of being equal parts sentimental and forward-facing, and ties a bow on the album nicely.
Once the experience is complete, however, there’s a little something missing.
It’s like coming to the end of a really engrossing book, or a Netflix series, and discovering you’ll have to do something different with your time.
That is exactly the ending we deserved, though, and honestly, I cannot pick holes in something I enjoyed so much.
It’s an absolute joy.
Feature Image Credit: Tom Ham, Partisan Records