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IDLES: ‘TANGK’ review - Bristol punks discover new terrain on loved up latest

Their fifth record is a perfect combination of their boisterous past and the experimental direction they’re moving in.



Bristol punks IDLES are back again with TANGK - the boys are loved up and on a mission to further their sound progression without losing their distinctive boisterousness. As a follow up to 2021’s CRAWLER, the newly discovered terrain marks it their most accomplished record yet.


Over the years, IDLES have established a confrontational reputation. An explosive attack on racist, sexist and homophobic viewpoints. Champions of society’s underdog: a middle finger to the Right. Emerging during the culture war years of post-Brexit Britain, 2017’s Brutalism provided a punchy introduction, but it was the release of Joy As An Act Of Resistance a year later which elevated their status further - evidenced by a Brit Award win for British Breakthrough Act in 2019. But things wouldn’t stay rosy for too long.


Third album Ultra Mono was let down by clunky lyricism and social class controversies surrounding single ‘Model Village’ (the hook-laden single condemned a working class town as being full of “half-pint thugs” and “gammon”, and led to class appropriation claims against IDLES from bands such as Sleaford Mods and Fat White Family). To avoid becoming a caricature of themselves, a change of tact was required. On Grammy-nominated fourth CRAWLER they pulled it back round again. Frontman Joe Talbot battled his demons through his lyricism, singing about near death experiences and his self-destructive tendencies as opposed to outward political posturing.


On CRAWLER, the band experimented on intense and atmospheric sonics to soundtrack the introspectiveness. With the palette widened on their previous, TANGK - which is pronounced “tank” with a slight whiff of the “g” - continues their development, albeit with a loved up lyrical focus. Produced again by Kenny Beats and guitarist Mark Bowen, the band have defined the record by positivity and love: “I needed love. So I made it” reveals Joe Talbot in an album press release, “This is our album of gratitude and power. All love songs. All is love.


One name who also lent their hand to co-production duties needs little introduction. Nigel Godrich is best known by his Radiohead associations having worked on eight of their nine albums. And his touch is most apparent on album opener ‘IDEA 01’ - an intriguing and atmospheric piano-led track which sounds like something from the Oxford band’s ambient King Of Limbs sessions. It has IDLES introducing the record in their most subtle manner yet.



Where the first three IDLES records were breathless and energetic, the first half of TANGK is defined by slow burning and intricacy. The trip hop beats on ‘POP POP POP’ expand IDLES focus even further, later bringing in eerie electronics and finishing on a manipulated “love is the thing” vocal. ‘A Gospel’ is, again, piano-led and beautifully tender, while ‘Roy’ brings a brighter, soulful vibe with an impassioned Joe Talbot declaring his devotion to a partner: “baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby / I’m a smart man but I’m dumb for you”.


Fear not though, the old sound hasn’t completely abandoned them just yet. Where IDLES have added depth to their sound, there’s still several sprinklings of old-school raucousness. ‘Gift Horse’ is as belligerent and bold as the band get here. “Look at him go!” exclaims Talbot within the explosive chorus and hints back to their rebellious past by later singing “F*** the king / He ain’t the king / She’s the king!” (If you haven’t already, check out their gloriously intense performance of ‘Gift Horse’ on Fallon to see why they’re still celebrated as a great live act).


IDLES crowd-pleasing skills haven’t been forgotten either. The playful ‘Dancer’ is bound to rival ‘Danny Nedelko’ and ‘Mother’ as a live, singalong favourite - Talbot’s lyrical dancefloor passions will likely be replicated on the floor of their upcoming tour. The rattling bass and funky guitar riff add additional character, while the presence of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Nancy Whang provides a welcomed, if unexpected, crossover. Two-thirds in, the pulsating ‘Hall & Oates’ rises the energy levels with the garage rock energy of The Hives, while the menacing ‘Jungle’ memorably finds Talbot “under a Scotsman’s boot” for an anthemic second half highlight.


TANGK opens with eerie pianos on ‘IDEA 01’ and departs with a pensive sax solo on experimental closer ‘Monolith’ - a perfect summation of the journey the Bristol band have taken us on. Because their fifth record progresses the sonics to new depths, bringing in fresh elements of atmosphere and creativity to their music.


The criticisms placed on 2020’s Ultra Mono led the band to draw a line in the sand and two albums on we’re now reaping the benefits. That’s not to say earlier fans will feel alienated, there’s just more going on now to also hook in new fans: as much new terrain is explored as pulsating old ground. All in all it reveals an unpredictable voyage from what was once Britain’s most predictable band. The perfect combination of their boisterous past and the experimental direction they’re moving in.


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