Track Review: Mr. Motivator // IDLES

Branded by The Independent as the ‘iron snowflakes’ of the modern-day punk-rock forecast, five-piece band IDLES merge politics, fury, and compassion into chaotic tracks of equal-parts violence and tenderness. From the first, rapidly-repeated chord of their newest single Mr. Motivator, such a reputation is still present. 

Instrumentally, it’s IDLES through and through. We’re treated to barks of quick riffs, the revving of electric guitars, and fist-thumps of heavy drum beats. A gut-punch of furious sound — jarring chords whipping up a whirlwind of fast action and straightened spines. Lyrically, we have fury steeped in satire. 

Frontman Joe Talbot mentioned in a Guardian interview: ‘I want to be able to sound like a Viz character, but also have the poise and intellect to convey something different.’ Therefore, we see this comic book-esque commentary almost instantly in his newest single, with mentions of celebrities slotted in-between slapstick scenery.

David Attenborough is described as ‘clubbing seal clubbers with LeBron James’, while Flava Flav is cast ‘in the club riding on the back of John Wayne’. Something ‘different’ conveys with this imagery set against a pounding backdrop of intense, urgent sound. Outlandish imagery with a force behind it: a message dolled-up in tutus and stage-makeup. 

Once you wade through the tar of heavy irony, though, there’s the core of IDLES’ message: ‘chase the pricks away’. ‘Pricks’ being the societal Powers That Be: the far-right, the morally-corrupt, the money-mongers of celebrity culture and political parties. Talbot snarls it into our ears deep enough that it begins to blur with the sound of our own thoughts. We listen to this song as though we’re repeating (semi-jokingly) the lyrics into a bedroom mirror. ‘You’re Joe Cal-fucking-zaghe’ we tell ourselves, smirking, bouncing on the balls of our feet.

Throughout their past two albums, Brutalism and Joy As An Act Of Resistance, feminism has consistently been given a place at the table. We are offered no less with Mr. Motivator. For a track mimicking strength (a stereotypically a male-orbiting concept), it’s refreshing but not surprising to see female names of power.

References to Frida Kahlo distributing weaponry to revolutionaries; Tracey Emin atop her art listening to punk-rock; riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna turning Trump’s famous words back on themselves. And there it lies again: a duality within the music. We’re given these situations satirically (‘Kathleen Hanna with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy’), but there’s still a ring of truth and bitterness behind it.

The music video itself celebrates the weight of the working man and woman — IDLES fans clad in (often hilariously exaggerated) workout gear, dancing their own dances alongside the track. Rather than watching celebrities parade around to IDLES’ lyrics, we’re watching ourselves, back. Normal people, banded together through the fast-paced lull of Talbot’s anti-elitist ideology.

‘How’d you like them cliches?’ Talbot brashly asks, simultaneously satirising the ‘motivational’ rhetoric of celebrity culture and capitalist society; and ironically calling to arms the trodden-on and beaten-down chasers of change. A Mr. Motivator indeed.

Words by Emily Moscrop

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