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Idles Steamroll You With Their Joy on ‘Tangk’

Describing the warm, fuzzy optimism of an Idles record requires only the most pretentious adjectives — ebullience, exultation, jubilation — words that Idles frontman Joe Talbot would likely laugh at heartily before offering a pint to anyone who said them. This is a band who once titled an album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, and whose 2020 album Ultra Mono brightened the darkest moments of peak Covid lockdown with uplifting punk-rock mantras like, “Let’s seize the day … You can do it,” on “Mr. Motivator” and the chorus to “Kill Them With Kindness.” Talbot hectors these comically exaggerated pep talks — equal parts carrot and stick — over crushing guitars in a way that feels both giddy and disorienting.

On their fifth full-length, Tangk (yeah, that’s “tank” with a tangy twist), the crew from Bristol, England dials back some of the intensity — following the direction of 2021’s Crawler — but maintains the positive mental attitude. The group even dedicates one song, the dance-rock “Pop Pop Pop,” to Talbot’s own concept of “Freudenfreude” — an update on the German expression for feeling pleasure at others’ misfortune, but this time feeling happy for people’s success. Talbot even sings the word “Badabing.” Try not to smile.

Although Idles hold back a little more than usual musically, leaning more into moody synths and shadowy guitar textures than previously, they still usually often build to big anthemic choruses. On “Gift Horse,” Talbot praises a horse or a lover or maybe just a cool guy, singing, “Look at him goooo,” with sweeping enthusiasm. Talbot, who previously shout-rapped most of his lyrics, even tries singing more, howling, “Baby, baby, baby, I’m a smart man, but I’m dumb for you,” on “Roy,” which owes debts musically to plinking doo-wop guitar and the irony of LCD Soundsystem. (That group’s James Murphy and Nancy Whang add vocals to the disco-punk rave-up “Dancer” on which Talbot euphorically shouts, “Dahncin’ hip to hip, dahncin’ cheek to cheek” as Murphy and Whang support him with angelic rounds of “Collide us as we work it out.”)

As always, the best moments of any Idles record are the times when everything feels uproariously intense, and Tangk benefits from Talbot’s breathy, over-the-top declamations, as on “Dancing” and “Hall & Oates,” Talbot’s toast to the man who makes-a his dreams come true (ooh-ooh): “It feels like Hall and Oates is playing in my ear/Every time my man’s near.” On “Gratitude,” Idles lunge forward musically as Talbot sings, “[I] hold my hands up and thank you, grati-tuuude,” as the synths and guitars swell around him and you and anyone else in earshot. 

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But with four albums behind them full of witty one-liners (“I kissed a boy, and I liked it,” Talbot sang on 2018’s “Samaritans”), Idles have begun to sublimate some of their intensity into something finer. On “Grace,” which the band builds with quiet piano and rhythm loops, Talbot transcends himself singing, “No god, no king, I said, ‘Love is the thing.’” It’s the sort of cliché that’s echoed through pop music for half a century, but Talbot’s conviction sells the sentiment. And on the post-punky “Jungle,” he sings, “Save me from me, I’m found, I’m found, I’m found” in a way that makes you think he’s discovered a new religion. There’s a great depth of sound throughout, no doubt thanks to Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich who co-produced and mixed Tangk, and it allows the heavenly moments to feel even bigger.

Idles have always aspired to come off bigger than they are — a quintet of high-minded everymen — and on, Tangk, they’re close to achieving their own personal beatitude.

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