Three years down the line from their critically acclaimed debut and IDLES are continuing to rocket in success with their brand of heavy, socially conscious brand of rock. Ultra Mono doesn’t deviate from this, packed with multiples calls to arms, touching on themes of inclusivity, class, gender inequality, nationalism, and toxic masculinity.
Album opener “War” brings Ultra Mono to life in the band’s typical raucous style, complete with guitar thrashing, clanging drums and screaming. Latest single “Model Village” is a witty take on the claustrophobic feel of the “small town,” veering close to the line between despairing and condescending. ‘I see a lot of gammon in the village, I don’t see a lot happen in the village/ just give them an anthem and they’ll sing it/ just saluting flags ‘cause it’s British, idiot spirits think their kindred,’ Talbot screams, decrying the often-dangerous small-town mentality. The track is one of the standouts on the album and is inspired by IDLES admiration for hip-hop producer Kenny Beats who provided additional production on the album. Closing out the album is “Danke” which borrows from Daniel Johnston’s tender “True Love Will Find You In The End” and reimagines it in a brazen, heavy punk-rock fashion.
“Kill Them With Kindness” and “Anxiety” are some of the more forgettable tracks on Ultra Mono, leaning towards cliché lyrics and forgettable choruses. However, the band do go as far as to acknowledge this criticism on “The Lover”, a self-aware hit out to the detractors of the band: ‘If I don’t like the music you fake, I just won’t listen to the piss you take/ sycophants does not a good band make… You say you don’t like my cliches, our sloganeering and our catchphrase.’
While IDLES are by no means a perfect band, it’s certainly refreshing to see their continued commitment to highlighting social issues, even if the music can sometimes feel repetitive. On “Carcinogenic” the band takes aim at the ruling elites, the flag wavers and the austerity pushers. ‘Over-working nurses and teachers / Whilst you preach austerity.’ Likewise, it feels relatively modern to have an all-male rock band sing about consent, as on the track “Ne Touche Pas Moi” (translation, don’t touch me), ‘my body is mine and it belongs to nobody but me.’ It’s a track decrying cat-callers and embracing the importance of consent.
IDLES have also been, rightfully, called out for lacking diversity in their tour supports while singing about feminism. The band have since announced all-female support acts for their upcoming tour in response to backlash. While it is no doubt reassuring to see a band respond constructively to criticism but you can’t help but wonder how such an oversight occurred for a band who strive for authenticity and a movement fans can believe in.
Ultra Mono doesn’t reinvent the wheel, recycling the nu-punk and socially conscious lyrics found on the first two albums. Which, in IDLES’ credit, clearly works for them and if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. For the band this formula certainly is working, the band are selling out tours within hours and building a legion of superfans in their online AF Gang.
The album doesn’t quite bring anything new to the table, other than a fresh set of pressing social issues. The album may struggle to win over the dissenters, but it will certainly please the believers, IDLES providing a consistent sermon for its disciples, with swathing tracks that are huge and clanging, as the lyrics taking aim at the inequality of contemporary society.