CRAWLER is an album born out of a near car crash – an event that inspired frontman Joe Talbot to deeply reflect on life, death and his own experience as a recovering addict.
Self-reflection is nothing new for IDLES. Much of the band’s lyrical output discusses themes pulled from real life, with Talbot singing openly and frankly about death and depression, as well as love. This record is also, musically, considerably different from IDLES pre-existing catalogue; gone are the DIY punk sounds of albums one and two (they had one foot out the door on Ultra Mono). The full LP is produced by Kenny Beats this time, with some mixed results.
On each album before CRAWLER, IDLES open proceedings with something big – ‘Heel / Heal‘ and ‘Colossus‘ are two of the best IDLES tracks, plus they always succeed in getting the crowd moving. CRAWLER, on the other hand, opens with ‘MTT 420 RR’- an electronic lead cut, with keys and synthesisers surrounding Talbot’s lyrics as they discuss the aforementioned near-accident. Setting the scene for an album unlike any IDLES record before it – CRAWLER will doubtlessly split IDLES fans, this new direction for the band is considerably different from what many may expect.
‘The Wheel’ is a track for the IDLES legacy fans – caught somewhere between their old and new sound – it feels like their sonic step forward has, disappointingly, already taken in a step back. It’s chorus of “can I get a hallelujah” sounds misaligned amongst the arrangement, going on for far too long.
CRAWLER is fourteen tracks long behemoth, with many of these tracks coming in at the four-minute mark, at times it feels like the album drags. The bands commitment to a new sound comes back in and out, sometimes never quite finding a happy middle between the two sounds of IDLES. Tracks like ‘When The Lights Come On’ see the band fully commit to their newfound introspection, and when they do this is the more mature, somewhat experimental sound that really works. But isn’t consistent throughout CRAWLER.
Throughout the album, IDLES’ political pedigree seems to have been stripped back. While in CRAWLER’s accompanying press release Talbot mentions that ‘The New Sensation’ is in reaction to Rishi Sunak’s comments during the pandemic (remember the “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber” thing?), it pales in comparison to a similarly themed ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’. IDLES may have been a band who have built a platform on their leftist stance, but on CRAWLER it seems almost like a token nod to the band’s political past.
This is the core of the issue – IDLES built a fanbase on tolerance and love, as well as hardcore leftwing values. This made the band attractive to young leftists, especially with the fury and anger that was prominent in the lyrical content.
In the press surrounding Ultra Mono, many fans’ patience grew thin with IDLES for a variety of reasons. In the NME article where the band discuss the (valid) criticism aimed at them for singing about feminism and not having any female support acts for a tour. The band claimed that they “couldn’t afford” Nadine Shah as a support act (Shah later tweeted that IDLES offered “a few hundred quid” for her). On the topic of diversity in music, Talbot even said “It comes with Government legislation” – which is of course, bollocks.
The frustration is born out of feeling sold out – IDLES built a platform on leftist values then seem to have abandoned it once they have sold some records, which has alienated some of their core fanbase. Instead of taking the opportunity to push back on their critics, they choose to hardly mention any politics – losing out to artists like Yard Act, Bob Vylan, Billy Nomates or Amyl and The Sniffers, who all take on these topics with great lyrical skill and brilliant punk sound.
‘Crawl’ is probably the standout on CRAWLER – the sound is urgent and interesting, but once more it’s sound is too polished to sound genuine. Ditto for ‘Meds’.
‘Progress’ – a lo-fi track that encompasses the new sound nicely – shows IDLES have found pockets of quality in this new album. The coin flips once more with ‘Wizz’, a cut that tries to achieve that ‘pub punk’ sound of punk music on cheep speed (and fails to do the sound justice in the same way as Chubby and The Gang
You have to admire IDLES’ balls to switch it up like this, but, overall, CRAWLER is a car-crash. Of course, there are good tracks here: ‘The Wheel’ and ‘Crawl’ are great, but the band are trying to do too much over an album and it winds up sounding self-indulgent and bloated. Not to mention the complete lack of punch – it’s like someone has removed the teeth from IDLES of old: they’ll still bark at you, but the ‘bite’ is nonexistent.
Feature image Tom Ham/Press