Despite lacking the element of surprise, Idles' second album finds the band as vital as ever while simultaneously exploring darker and lighter hues; they have managed to follow up on Brutalism with a record that is not only more explosive but also doubles down on humor and genuine sentiment. Clearly, they've been taking cues from their live shows -- which have increased exponentially since their debut -- as Joy as an Act of Resistance is just as chaotic but isn't quite as tight and often feels like it's bursting at the seams. What remains irrefutable is the sense of urgency, delivered to such a degree that it casts shade on other bands who claim to be raucous.
Proceedings start in familiar territory, with opening track "Colossus" mimicking the buildup structure of "Heel/Heal" before launching into a stream of pop culture references -- of which there are many throughout the record. From there, much of Joy as an Act of Resistance is an often hilarious trip through a myriad of societal issues, taking a slanted, sarcastic, and frothing shot at every subject. What's most interesting about Idles is that they don't trade in 2-D rage; they point a finger at very specific targets before laughing directly at them, and it's more nuanced than anger for anger's sake. In particular, their dismantling of masculinity is impeccable, as they encourage expression of emotions and the inclusivity of everyone without succumbing to the tired beta-male diatribe spewed by certain detractors; this reaches its pinnacle on veritable highlight "Samaritans," which lists various phrases aimed at young men that only entrench stunted emotional growth.
It runs the risk of being overwhelming, if not for the sense of elation that Talbot brings to the table, masterfully exemplified by his staunch defense of immigration on "Danny Nedelko," which is both a personal case for a good friend -- the lead vocalist of Heavy Lungs -- and a series of more relatable characters that immigration has brought to the U.K. Most importantly, the track swells to such manic levels of celebratory joy that it inescapably sweeps everything along with it. Conversely, the linchpin of the album, "June," features heartbreaking lyrics and is easily the most personal song for Talbot; it entails the tragic loss of his baby daughter, an honest and brave move, especially considering how recently that unfortunate event took place.
In a move almost possible to predict, Idles have also included a full-blown cover with their own rendition of Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me," which works more than it really should, both thematically and in this new crunchier form. Overall, Joy as an Act of Resistance manages to plumb new depths for Idles -- that they've achieved another record in such a short space of time is admirable, let alone one that shines head and shoulders over the majority of their peers -- and it certainly upholds their status as one of the U.K.'s most exciting new acts.