IDLES’ fifth studio album, TANGK, is an interesting snapshot of where the band are now. To me, this was the album that would indicate their quality as a unit. 2017’s Brutalism and 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance were teeth-clenched post-punk records that confronted the frustration and revelry available in daily life. The band occupied the space that Slaves (now Soft Play) had occupied just a couple years prior. By 2020’s Ultra Mono, however, IDLES felt like they had fallen into self-parody. Slogan-driven lyricism and a now tired musical formula showed the band up for having gone to the well one too many times. Then, 2021’s CRAWLER came out, and I was genuinely excited to see the band move in a new direction. Flirtations with noise rock on ‘Car Crash’, break-neck hardcore on ‘Wizz’ and the cathartic hymn of ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ – not to mention a more refreshing punk sound on ‘Crawl!’ – showed just what the band are capable of outside their usual wheelhouse. That being said, it had its off beats, and I was excited to see IDLES expand further and find fertile new ground.

Then along came TANGK and look it’s not a bad record but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit deflated. Singer Joe Talbot’s lyrics hit another new low at certain points, feeling played out, predictable and a little dry. The cry of “Fuck the King, he ain’t the King, she’s the King!” in ‘Gift Horse’ strays beyond blunt into unimaginative and a regression into Ultra Mono territory. The album’s adopted motto of ‘Love is the fing’ isn’t irritating by itself, but something about the emphasis on the ‘f’ rubs me up the wrong way. Not grammatically, I just think it comes across as a little forced. It’s the knowing ‘fing’, the album title, I find it all a bit try hard.

Not to suggest the album is devoid of highlights. The run of ‘POP POP POP’, ‘Roy’ and ‘A Gospel’ feels quite raw, intimate even. Instrumentally and in the production there are some really inspired choices. These moments show an IDLES that have grown beyond their roots brawling on the dancefloor, now throwing up in the bathroom sink. My biggest grievances with the record come when it feels like they’re trying to be IDLES.

I really hate ‘Dancer.’ Well, that’s not fair, I hate the chorus. If forced at gunpoint to write an IDLES chorus, ‘Dancer’ would be what I offered after giving up five minutes in. Its annoying because the verses are quite compelling (if you remove the vocals.) A taut, snarling riff and charging drum beat stomp through before marching straight off a cliff as soon as the hook digs in. I think my analogy, Ultra Mono didn’t drain the well, it poisoned it. Any signal of the band trying to make an ‘IDLES song’ has me kicking and screaming in the other direction.

Maybe IDLES are a band I’ve simply grown beyond, but honestly it feels like they’ve outgrown themselves a little bit. The vast majority of TANGK sees the band revelling in moving forward, only to be kneecapped by old habits. An uninteresting vocal delivery here, a cringey lyric there, a barrel-scrape of a riff elsewhere, it stops TANGK from being the confident stride in the right direction that would be warranted after CRAWLER. ‘IDEA 01’, ‘POP POP POP’, ‘Roy’, ‘A Gospel’ ‘Grace’ ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Monolith’ all have endearing qualities, and while, yes, I have just listed most of the record, they’re all a bit tainted by the promise of more. When a dye pack goes off, the whole bag is marred. TANGK is to CRAWLER what Ultra Mono was to Joy…, and whilst I really enjoyed moments of this record, I dreaded every relisten because some tracks felt like a chore.

Idles: Tangk – Out 16th February 2024 (Partisan Records)

– GRACE (Official Video) (