The comeback of Idles: ‘I no longer have to mask my emotions with aggression.’

The comeback of Idles: ‘I no longer have to mask my emotions with aggression.’


Oe Talbot, known for his loud and provocative voice, starts off Idles’ latest album with a gentle singing and ends it with a soothing hum. This time, he’s not just a force of nature but also a source of comfort, and this is not a coincidence. Between the release of their previous album, Crawler, which was a top ten hit in 2021, and their new one, Tangk, both Talbot and primary musician Mark Bowen became fathers. “When you become a parent, you are responsible for this delicate being,” Talbot explained. “Suddenly, you are accountable for someone else’s well-being and that causes you to become more gentle. It makes you reflect more and be more mindful of your words and actions.”

Talbot has always been aware of his emotions and motivations. He and his band, Idles, have built a reputation on being transparent in the modern music scene, which has contributed to their success. All four of their previous albums have reached the top 10 in the UK, with one of them, Ultra Mono, even reaching No. 1. This commitment to honesty is evident in Talbot’s direct vocal style, his willingness to share personal struggles with the media, and the band’s outspoken political beliefs. Talbot stated, “I cannot hide who I am, and I have never felt the need to be dishonest.”

Despite facing challenging topics in his songs and interviews, Talbot has always been open about his experiences with his mother’s addiction, the death of his first child, and his own battles with substance abuse. However, he has now decided to set boundaries on his honesty. During the promotion of his latest album, he revealed that he and his wife had separated. When questioned about the impact on his songwriting, he declined to discuss further, stating that it would not be fair to involve those who are not part of the band.

Talbot was not entirely unwilling, though not exactly enthusiastic, to discuss his new romantic partnership, which served as inspiration for some joyous lyrics on the latest album. “I’m currently in a wonderful state,” he shared. “And I am extremely thankful.”

If you don’t grasp the main idea, he named a track on the album Gratitude, and another one Grace. Together, they act as emotional anchors for the affectionate tone of the entire album. (In our conversation, Talbot mentioned the word “love” no less than 18 times). However, this doesn’t mean that the new album is all soft and mushy. Along the way, there’s still plenty of the previous rage and aggression, and the love that Talbot sings about is far from simplistic. “People may think they know what a love song is,” he explained. “But these songs are my interpretation of love, which, in the past, has been very dark and fractured. I’ve learned how to delve into those emotions, which is why I can be vulnerable on this record.”

This is also a contributing factor to his evolved vocal style. He stated, “I am no longer confined to aggressive lyrics and can explore more somber, nostalgic, or whimsical themes without feeling self-indulgent. For example, even when Nina Simone sang with fragility, there was still a powerful force behind it.”

These are not the sole modifications on the latest album. This marks the first occasion that Idles collaborated with a prominent producer, Nigel Godrich, who is most recognized for his extensive work with Radiohead. “I have dreamt of having an album produced by Nigel Godrich ever since I was 13 and listened to OK Computer,” shared Mark Bowen, who, together with Talbot, participated in the interview from the band’s small rehearsal space in Bristol.

However, the idea of collaborating with a highly acclaimed producer was incredibly daunting for them. “We held a lot of respect for music that we viewed as at the top level, which we believed was out of reach for us,” Bowen explained. “An album by Radiohead or Portishead, that’s for geniuses! It takes something we don’t possess to make something like that. But what we discovered is that it’s not as unattainable as we thought if we put in the effort. We learned that there are no geniuses.”

Bowen, who has been involved in the band’s production from the beginning, collaborated with Godrich to perfect a range of fresh sounds in the songs. (The album’s name, Tangk, is a word meant to mimic the effect of the music). “It was almost like attending a class,” Bowen shared. “I gained knowledge about tape loops and his techniques with distortion, reverb, and delay. It’s a very traditional approach, but it has a unique sound.”

Five men wearing various shades of green stand together behind a light green checkered wall.

Cannot reword.

The album, called Brutalism, follows the band’s philosophy of defying expectations that has been present since their first release in 2017. It was a powerful and explosive musical experience, featuring sharp guitar riffs, intense beats, and Talbot’s commanding vocals. Talbot explained that they were drawn to the concept of violence in art, whether it be through brushstrokes, typography, or any other medium. They recognized its value and impact.

They saw a purpose for it as well – specifically, to combat the prevailing opinions in Britain during that period. “We aimed to utilize our aggression to break through the aggression found in advertising, popular media, and journalism in order to spark a discussion of dissent,” explained Talbot.

The band engaged in discussions about a variety of subjects during their journey, including white privilege, Brexit, immigration, and class. They also specifically addressed the negative aspects of traditional masculinity. This approach has not been seen since the early works of Henry Rollins, where bands used hyper-masculine elements to confront these issues. However, this resulted in some backlash, with musicians like Jason Williamson and members of Fat White Family questioning Talbot’s authenticity and understanding of the topics he addresses. Talbot responded, “The criticism is directed at me because I am outspoken.”

The outcome has impacted the entire group, causing some to attempt to label Idles as a political band. When asked about this characterization, Talbot initially responded with a straightforward “no comment.” However, after a brief pause, he proceeded to deliver a 10-minute comment. “People want to claim us and dictate our identity,” he passionately stated. “I have always been drawn to writing about empathy and unity as tools to combat the oppressive government we are living under. I do not view this as political. To me, it is simply being humane. I despise our government. I loathe every deceptive statement that spews from their abominable mouths. And I hope they are defeated in the upcoming general election.”

Bowen’s reaction was calm, but just as determined. He stated, “Our political climate is deeply ingrained in our identity, so the idea that something is not political goes against everything we believe in. It is a significant aspect of who we are.”

The motivation behind their protest is an important factor. Although the new album’s lyrics may highlight love and support in the midst of demands for change, Talbot maintains that these sentiments have always been at the core of his message. “I have consistently approached with empathy, introspection, and affection,” he stated. “And I have consistently discussed gratitude.”

His tone now often reflects these emotions unlike before. The song Pop Pop Pop perfectly showcases this change. Its lyrics use a recently popular term in the media: “freudenfreude”. Essentially, this term means finding pleasure in someone else’s success, rather than the traditional word “schadenfreude”, which means finding joy in someone else’s misfortune. Talbot expressed, “I find ‘schadenfreude’ to be a pitiful thing. It’s prevalent in British media and culture, and I hate it. Currently, many people feel unheard and unsafe, causing them to become cruel and sadistic. When given platforms like the internet, tabloids, and newspapers, they can turn into vindictive bullies.”

The track on the album that aims to combat the harshness of society has a name that was selected long before a recent, widely-known event in pop culture occurred. Called “Hall & Oates,” the song aims to honor the strength of friendship. Talbot shared, “My former partner and I used to laugh about how after having sex for the first time, the next morning it would feel like the birds were chirping and Hall & Oates were playing. I appreciate the concept of friendship being similar to making love.”

The contentious legal battles between Daryl Hall and John Oates have tarnished their image as role models. However, Bowen and Talbot believe that the public’s surprise at the news only highlights how much the duo relied on such drama in the past. Talbot expressed, “They have shattered the illusion. And they have every right to do so. They are two individuals who have the freedom to end their partnership if they choose.”

On the other hand, the individuals in Idles are currently experiencing a strong sense of unity and motivation. In just six years, they have produced five significant works and embarked on extensive tours, with a schedule that will take them across multiple continents this year. Their relentless drive is fueled by a fear of losing momentum. As Bowen stated, they feel the need to consistently work in order to maintain their success.

The thoughts of the hard work’s results were evident when we spoke, fueled by the atmosphere of the interview. “When we began writing songs in this very room, we imagined this,” Bowen expressed.

Talbot’s increased gratitude is accompanied by a sense of determination. He believes that being grateful means recognizing one’s privilege and repaying it through diligent effort. However, for him, hard work does not equate to repetitive writing. Instead, it involves pushing boundaries and embracing discomfort to create something even more exceptional.

  • Tangk will be unavailable starting from February 16th.

  • This article was updated on February 13, 2024. The song Gratitude was previously titled Grace, and the rehearsal studio was mistakenly listed as being in London instead of Bristol.