The Bristol-based band, Idles, shifts gears with their new album “Tangk” as they trade in their fiery political anthems for a collection of love songs.

The Bristol-based band, Idles, shifts gears with their new album “Tangk” as they trade in their fiery political anthems for a collection of love songs.


The fifth album by Dles opens with a piano playing an arpeggio and closes with a brief saxophone solo. One lively song, Dancer, celebrates the joy of dancing closely with others, with backing vocals from James Murphy and Nancy Whang of the popular band LCD Soundsystem. Another standout track, Tangk, has a similar sound to LCD’s song Someone Great with its contemplative synth echoes.

Idles’ first three albums were characterized by intense aggression and strong guitar work. However, it is evident that there has been a significant change in their sound. The band from Bristol gained recognition for their bold condemnation of xenophobia and toxic masculinity, drawing on punk influences. Despite their focus on the genre’s typical anger-driven riffs, their attention to musical intricacies set them apart. Now, it seems they are evolving into something new once again, as they aim to expand their sound while also incorporating more subtlety.

Nigel Godrich, sometimes referred to as the sixth member of Radiohead, co-produced Tangk, alongside Idles guitarist Mark Bowen and go-to console jockey Kenny Beats, opening the door to further adventurous sound-making. Drones, blurry whines, instrumental ad libs and synth-like hoverings percolate away in the background of a number of Tangk’s tracks, adding depth and hue.

Moreover, lead singer Joe Talbot displays a shift in his approach, shifting from intense anger to more melodic vocals. He showcases a broader range of emotions, sometimes with delicacy and other times with soulfulness, and even incorporates sprechgesang in certain parts. The inclusion of a waltzing piano track, “A Gospel,” adds to the diversity of the album. While labeled as a collection of love songs, “Tangk” marks a progression for Idles as they move beyond their established niche and into a more powerful sound. The album’s connection to their previous release, 2021’s “Crawler,” can be found in the grand, old-fashioned waltz “The Beachland Ballroom,” where Talbot showcases his inner crooner.

However, he does not completely let go of his ferocity and impulsive statements. Another song, titled “Hall & Oates,” maintains a classic thrashing style. Talbot’s passionate performance in “Dancer” gives the impression of dancing as a form of combat (or a particularly lively round of physical intimacy).

One of the album’s most well-realised tracks, Gift Horse, packs Idles’ usual explosive propulsion. It’s a bop. “He puts the foot down and see you later,” Talbot huffs, of the song’s equine subject, but he could well be describing his band. He still does a great line in distilled epigrams. “Don’t let the pricks take your inch to a mile,” he instructs on the prowling, minimal Pop Pop Pop.

Over time, however, the lead singer of Idles has been open about the band’s approach and beliefs, as well as his personal experiences (taking care of his mother until her death) and imperfections, including his struggle with addiction. In Tangk, Talbot reflects on love, empathy, and gratitude – not typically associated with the intense anger that Idles initially presented, but integral to their journey.

Both Talbot and Bowen, the guitarist and co-writer, are parents. When Talbot sings about “my baby”, he is usually referring to his young daughter, who is now four years old. Sadly, in 2017, Talbot and his former partner experienced the loss of their first daughter, Agatha, who was stillborn. In the song “Gift Horse”, Talbot’s “baby” is portrayed as a child with innocent reasoning who questions the tradition of kneeling before a new king. In a vulgar yet accurate manner, Talbot declares “Fuck the king, she’s the king!” On “Grace”, Talbot emphasizes the idea of rejecting societal norms and instead choosing love as the ultimate guiding force. This sentiment is repeated on “Tangk”.

In a piece for the Big Issue, Talbot presents a manifesto on Idles’ current state. He references bell hooks’s All About Love and Aesop’s Fables, stating: “I quickly learned that in order to receive empathy and grace, I must first show empathy and grace. Through Tangk, I understood that I desired love and needed it. Therefore, I must give and radiate love.”

Therefore, the collection includes love songs dedicated to a man, horses, and a new romantic connection. Additionally, the novel introduces a new term, “freudenfreude,” which is the opposite of “schadenfreude” and refers to experiencing joy at others’ happiness. Overall, Tangk effectively propels Idles to a point where they can produce a grander sound without increasing their speed.

On songs such as the slow-building ballad Roy, they get there. At the climax, Bowen’s guitar is barely recognisable as a fuzzy Doppler stutter, drummer Jon Beavis is more than up to job of incrementally notching up the pressure and Talbot is howling “baby, baby, baby” with a murky kind of soul. There is often hand-wringing about where the next festival headliners are going to come from. No longer just parochial rabble rousers, Idles are moving on up.