CRAWLER – IDLES’ fourth album in four years and their longest to date (due out tomorrow, November 12th) – has a cover that matches the record’s alluring depth. Frontman Joe Talbot, photographed by Tom Ham, floats like a stuntman-turned-astronaut outside of a Yorkshire home with many windows (available on AirBnB, by the way). Just like IDLES’ whole ethos, the glass house is open, warm, and welcoming. Talbot’s armored appearance, on the other hand, evokes his old “Colossus” declaration, “I’m like Evel Knievel.” He’s suited up against some kind of danger, venturing into the air as if in anti-gravity. This image is just like the rich contrast of CRAWLER. It’s movingly openhearted, yet tough and moshpit-ready – even a bit otherworldly thanks to its many well-chosen effects. As Talbot revealed, “‘Crawler’ is like the character of me in the dark warmth of my addiction — a crawler, a night crawler, someone on their knees, someone praying, someone surviving. The grit of it. The weight of the world on you. All of those things is a ‘crawler.’”
IDLES recorded CRAWLER during the pandemic with producer Kenny Beats, who was, according to guitarist Mark Bowen, shrewdly inquisitive throughout the process. Bowen, who co-produced the LP alongside Beats, recalled, “Kenny was constantly asking questions: ‘What’s a crawler?’ ‘Why are you doing this here?’ He would facilitate things through those questions, because you’d kind of get put on the spot, and you’d have to work things out to answer them. The way Kenny and I talk about music is very much from a hip-hop or electronic point of view. Drums are primary. The main thing that’s got to happen is that it’s got to slam and pull you along. Oftentimes, I second-guess the more insular, esoteric songs. Kenny would say, ‘Why are we recording this again? Let’s just use the demo. The demo has the feeling. You don’t need anything else here.’” While prior LP Ultra Mono was an absolute blast, Bowen called it “kind of like a caricature of our identity that helped us see it for all its flaws.” This is perhaps one reason why CRAWLER sounds so mature and self-aware in comparison.
It’s crazy that CRAWLER is a full fourteen tracks because upon first listen, it flew by in the best way and left us wanting more. Like 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance – but not like many other records that come to mind – the longest track is the opener, “MTT 420 RR.” It’s five-and-a-half minutes of guitar-powered suspense from Lee Kiernan and Mark Bowen under Talbot’s eerie repetition of “It was February / I was cold and I was high” and later, “Are you ready for the storm?” A scum-like instant-hit, “The Wheel” features kickass grinding bass by Adam Devonshire that motivates your muscles to move. Its venue-ready chorus – “Can I get a hallelujah? Can I hear it from the back now?” – contrasts the tough times Talbot depicts in its verses. There’s an edgy urban feel to Jon Beavis’ drumming on “When the Lights Come On,” an immersive song that, incidentally, sums up the feeling of seeing IDLES perform: “I danced grief from my pores / The beat pounds like I’m knocking at the door.” It really seems like their Side A track selection was all leading up to a super-slick CRAWLER highlight, “Car Crash,” when Talbot’s rhythmic delivery hits like hip-hop gold. “I got myself together, I got myself in check,” he claims, cleverly becoming an unreliable narrator in this frenetic depiction of addiction. One that stunned when IDLES debuted it live at Terminal 5, “Car Crash” came out of a moment when Talbot “watched a motorcyclist race past him on the highway at nearly 130 miles an hour. The rider was inches away from crashing into Talbot’s car,” according to the album bio. As Talbot stated, “I’ve been a car crash. Being an addict is part and parcel of who I was for years and years. Watching that motorcyclist felt like the start of a new story – reflecting on addiction in a forgiving, empathetic and sympathetic way. Allowing yourself the room to breathe and forgive, but also taking responsibility for your actions.”
Before your eyes are done vibrating, “The New Sensation” persuades more raging. “Shake your tiny tushy like you don’t give a shit,” Talbot urges over more rhythm section action. Next track “Stockholm Syndrome” echoes Brutalism’s “Stendhal Syndrome” in both its title and growling guitars. It’s another time on CRAWLER when the lyrics are very exposed and forthright: “How can I feel myself when I can’t even feel my face? I’ve got more stories to tell, but I can’t remember the time nor place.” Interestingly, this storytelling line connects to Talbot’s lyrical approach for all of CRAWLER. “This whole album,” he explained, “I tried to be more of a storyteller than I’ve ever been before, and more poetic, which I think is more honest, in an ironic way, than trying to be as blunt and down the line as possible.” An equally vivid standout, CRAWLER’s moving first single, “The Beachland Ballroom,” celebrates the Cleveland venue they’ve played in the states. As Talbot stated, “It’s a song about one of the worst moments in my life, which became one of the best changes in my life.” The soulful song led to a special scene in NYC as fans sang along savagely under T5’s moody disco ball: “Damage / Damage / Damage.”
If the second half of CRAWLER sounds more introspective, that’s by design. As Bowen explained, “I thought it was important to include a lot of the songs that deal directly with trauma and the immediate reactive responses to trauma in the first half. Then, you have the more head-on stuff later – the realization and the dealing with it.” The titular-ish “Crawl!” has that ruthless, racing vibe of early IDLES tunes, plus an important declaration: “And yeah, I’m a fucking crawler / Crawling out, but it worked for me / I’m alright! I’m alright! I’m alright! I’m alright!” Then, during “Meds,” the unraveling guitar sounds from Kiernan and Bowen are as satisfying as the one-letter wordplay as Talbot toys with “meditate” and “medicate.”
“Kelechi,” a spaced-out half-minute interlude, sinks into the enveloping “Progress.” This “mantra of realization,” per the album bio, includes haunting layers of confessions. It sounds like Talbot is singing, “I don’t want to feel myself get high,” “I don’t want to feel myself come down,” and “I come home to you,” but it’s all pretty hazy, so the lyric booklet might surprise us later. “Progress” ends abruptly with an oddly-thrilling ch-click we’d love to identify. It’s somewhat like a camera snapping, but closer to a car door locking. Then, with the fastest drums and headbangiest “12341234!” we’ve heard from Beavis, we get the quick-whizzing “Wizz” – another half-minute track based upon text messages from Talbot’s former drug dealer. Its brief volatility precedes “King Snake,” yet another stick-in-your-head track that conveys the persona: “The jack of fuck all / The master of none / The champion of nada / A neglectable sum.”
Much like “Rottweiler” (JAAAOR’s finale and their favorite show-closer), “The End” of CRAWLER is powered by swirling guitar work and truly IDLES-y shout-along lyrics. Before reminding us that “Life is beautiful,” Talbot sings with an audible grin: “Cuts like a knife / stings like a tick / kicks like a mule / acts like a prick, acts like a prick / Burns like a fire / Feels like an itch / Harms like a choir / acts like a dick, acts like a dick.” While they picked the title, “The End” (like The Beatles and The Doors once did), we’re confident it’s still just the beginning. Boiling over with sharp sonic choices and wit, CRAWLER foreshadows more powerful records from the magnetic Bristol band down the line. We look forward to a future when IDLES are filling entire crates in each vinyl stash they grace.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Gif: Shayne Hanley