After the critical clean sweep of 2018’s Joy as an act of resistance, Joe Talbot’s gang of working-class heroes brings to the table a third labour that carries on — and expands — the sensibilities developed in its predecessor.
Ultra Mono doesn’t shy away from wearing its politics on its sleeve, and a no-quarter struggle with Tories, right-wing ideologies, racism, homophobia, and tabloids is front and centre for the whole runtime. One of the better examples of this is the first teaser track, “Mr. Motivator”, whichplays with and deconstructs both left and right-wing icons (from Frida Kahlo to Flavor Flav, from John Wayne to Kathleen Hanna, from LeBron James to David Attenborough) over a sequence of staunchy, drony guitar riffs.
Conversely, “A Hymn” is a mid-to-low tempo post punk anthem in which Talbot moves his gaze onto the inside, uncovering the fragilities of an ageing generation of everyone caught in the tangle of pedestrian life. In this track, Idles’ usual aggressiveness is swapped for a more spacey and atmospheric sound, not without grit but more attentive to the empty spaces in sound.
The album is relentless and abrasive exactly the way we’ve come to expect from an Idles record, but its monolithic nature is found more in the music’s attitude than in the actual execution. The band avoids being overly repetitive of sounds and musical patterns, while the dry metronome of Beavis’ drumming and Talbot growly vocals give an organic feeling to the work. Albeit far from flawless, and sometimes bordering on un-nuanced, the album succeeds in one fundamental task: being an Idles record, bringing forth their signature mix of grit and frailty, rage and empathy, of riot and tenderness.