The driving force of Brutalism is the outstanding vocals by singer Joe Talbot. His ferocious, growling delivery is perfect for the fast-paced tunes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. The opening track, "Heel/Heal", introduces you to Talbot: a guy you might regularly find at the Salty Spitoon. He repeats the same couple refrains throughout the song, getting angrier and angrier until it hits a satisfying boiling point. "Well Done" flexes the band’s social wit, with a rousing defense of the working class. The song bleeds sarcasm straight from Talbot’s mouth. "Mother" is the record’s strongest cut, pairing smart lyrics on a trio of infectious hooks. An example being: “The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich.” All of this rides over a killer bass line and highs from the guitar. The song also touches on issues with sexual violence, as Talbot delivers a chilling vocal refrain at the end. "White Privilege" and "Stendhal Syndrome" also provide some brutally honest social commentary that is an interesting listen.
IDLES, however, is not always disgusted with its world. They pull off a few sincere narratives on "Faith in the City" and "Slow Savage". Well, at least I think it’s sincere on "Faith in the City". It can be hard to tell. Two stories are told of people using religion to keep themselves afloat through tough times. Regardless of the honesty, it’s a passionate performance all around. The album’s closer, "Slow Savage", is an incredibly personal track of self-awareness. It recounts all the causes of a relationship that ended horribly. It’s an outstanding vocal performance from Talbot. He sounds harrowing and broken. Progressively, his voice loses its composure. He even flashes some beauty in his voice during the somber chorus melodies. The sound is reminiscent of Trent Reznor’s performances on The Fragile and "Something I Can Never Have".
Instrumentally, IDLES displays impressive musical proficiency. The melodies are well constructed and cleanly performed, yet holds onto the dirty and unhinged sound. "Date Night" has a grimy bass part that is prominent throughout the track, as well as a great chorus. "1049 Gotho" is one of the catchiest points of the track listing. The drums and guitars are hard-hitting and fast paced. "Rachel Khoo" follows a familiar formula, but is just as fun of a listen. "Slow Savage" is the one moment on Brutalism that is an extreme change of pace. The instrumental is barren, with piano and an atmospheric drum beat. It is a welcome addition to the project, and an interesting way to finish it off.
Brutalism starts encountering its problem at about the halfway mark. "Divide & Conquer" is a bit bland instrumentally and does not hold the same vocal passion. This is also around the time the song-writing formula becomes somewhat obvious. "Stendhal Syndrome", "Exeter", and "Benzocaine" do not try anything new. Without Talbot carrying these songs lyrically, it can all start to feel overbearing. But IDLES recovers from those forgettable tracks quickly, and ends the album on two solid notes.
While IDLES does not exactly revolutionize the sounds of punk rock with Brutalism, they give you a series of memorable hooks laced with intense sarcasm that really feels unique. Joe Talbot’s vocals are raw and surrounded by angry instrumentals that are well put together. The lyrics are smart and easy to pick up on, topping-off a great rock album.
Favorite Tracks: "Heel/Heal", "Well Done", "Mother", "Date Night", "1049 Gotho", "White Privilege", "Slow Savage"
Least Favorite Tracks: "Divide & Conquer", "Benzocaine"