So, 2020 is proving to be a year where there is proving very little to celebrate. There is a disease that, despite the protestation of ‘scientists’ such as Ian Brown and Noel Gallagher (Editor, please note that this is the only time I will ever write about these two fuck-wits), has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, there is a growing unrest about the gap between the rich and the poor, the left wing and right wing have become equally vitriolic in response and the prejudice and discrimination of too many has been exposed through events such as the death of George Floyd and reactions to people seeking asylum in the UK. How do you capture the moment, the vitriol, the rage, the need for solidarity? Well it seems you record ‘Ultra Mono‘.
To not know about this album’s release you would need to be living under a rock, as Idles have quickly, but steadily seen a real rise over recent years culminating in a show at Alexandra Palace last year and already have achieved three nights sold out at Brixton Academy next year (or whenever we are actually able to get to a gig again).
As per usual it took me a while to catch up and three things in their history primed me for this albums release. The first was seeing the effort that they put into a live rendition of one song at the Mercury Awards last year and this was swiftly followed with falling in love with the ‘Live At The Bataclan‘ album, where the energy is literally exploding through the speakers. The final piece of my puzzle in realising what I’d missed was listening to the excellent ‘Distraction Pieces‘ podcast where Scroobius Pip interviewed the band’s frontman, Joe Talbot. I was blown away by the sentiment, the emotion and the thought that Talbot displayed. He talked openly about the impact of therapy and then the use of CBT, the place that violence has is in his music, the need for respect for others and the concerns about both media and racism (if everyone is together, fascism will die through empathy). I did not believe it would be possible for this all to be captured in a record and one that could appeal to many. I was wrong as ‘Ultra Mono’ does exactly that and it is relentless in its energy and its message.
‘War‘ opens the album and has a rhythm beat that sounds like a stampede of wild animals and there is a clear sense that the focussed aggression of the record is opened with line “That’s the sound of the sword going in”. The already released ‘Grounds‘ takes this energy and names it. “Do you hear that thunder, it’s the sound of strength in numbers”, “I am I, unify unify” we are being primed to be think about togetherness and being one. The advantage of being produced by Nick Launay is that you can quickly find a Bad Seed when you need one and no less than Warren Ellis was present to contribute a bit of screaming. The pace is maintained into ‘Mr. Motivator‘. The song is based around ironic cliches that were a response to someone in the media suggesting that all the songs are sloganeering, but again the chorus unites, “all hold hands chase the pricks away“. Love and unity. I also love the fact that its called ‘Mr. Motivator’ as he’s deemed as 10% smiley lovely person and 90% machine. Anxiety shows some of the learning from therapy, name your problem and don’t bury it. Here it is screamed from chorus through to verse with some help from David Yow from Jesus Lizard.
There is a slight pause at the beginning of ‘Kill Them With Kindness‘, as there is a piano intro played by Jamie Cullum (which feels very much like a big “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”) but again the message of the title is the message in the song.
There are some undoubted highlights to this album. ‘The Lover‘ is an incredible song and is highlighting how close anger and love can be where as a lyricist it is clear that love is going to be hard work but is also liberating (“our unity makes me feel so free to say, fuck you, I’m a lover“), ‘Model Village‘ perfectly sums up what we all think its like living in a closed neighbourhood and even if you don’t live in one you’ll be able to identify someone that is like everyone in this village. ‘Ne Touché Pas Moi‘ brings out a duet with Jehnny Beth and makes it clear how important it is to respect people physically as well as emotionally and when they are screaming the word consent over and over there is nothing hidden in the message (and combined with the song they recorded on Beth’s solo album clearly indicates there should be an album of duets at some point).
As a whole this album is incredible. It makes you think, it makes you want to jump around and it makes you want to sing. It is completely of the times and there is no doubt that it’s of the heart. Talbot sings the title to Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End‘ at the beginning of final song ‘Danke‘ and it sums up all they are attempting to do. Love and unity need to be strong and this will help us overcome the madness that is being done.
Up until now this period hasn’t had a soundtrack – I promise you this is it, there will never be a more relevant album for the right here and now than ‘Ultra Mono’.
Go and listen to it right now.
GO GO GO!