Have you ever been to the cinema with few expectations and still come out feeling disappointed? You'd heard some good things and wanted to check it out, but had purposefully tailored your expectations down to avoid disappointment, only to come out with it anyway?
That's what this album felt like.
IDLES, the noisy rock group who simply refuse to be labelled as punk, come into this off the back of two critically-acclaimed albums. This third album, then, should have seen them really hitting their stride and taking off into the stratosphere. However, it's difficult to see that happening when the album is just so...forgettable. The album finished not 15 minutes ago and hardly a single note from it lingers in this brain.
It's really quite confusing because it's not like it's actually bad. Rather, Ultra Mono is 42 minutes of the same idea rehashed over and over. It's a fine idea, but hearing the same brash guitars, aggressive drums and loud vocals for that long, with few moments of variety, gets very bland very quickly. Individually, there isn't a bad song on here, but when hearing them all in one go, you end up just zoning it out; it becomes a buzzing in your ears rather than an actually stimulating sound. "Mono", of course, means "one"; a monophonic sound system only has one audio channel. In that respect, this album truly is Ultra Mono, in that it has a mono amount of ideas in it.
This band come with a lot of hype, ringing endorsements from critics all across the spectrum and their trajectory certainly is an upward one. However, all bands stumble eventually and it's hard not to see this as their trip-up. The lack of ideas is evident, and whilst there's clearly plenty of energy in the performances, there's still something missing, something that's difficult to place. The energy should transfer from the music into you, but for whatever reason, it just...doesn't. No connection is made between the music and its listener; it's like there's a barrier in the way.
It's a shame because lyrically, the album addresses some important topics that do need to be talked about more. Politics, toxic masculinity and mental health are all brought up on this album, and that's good; things like that, particularly the latter two, need to be discussed more. The music behind them, however, just doesn't do the lyrical content justice.
There are a few bright moments. 'Mr. Motivator' made the ears prick up a little bit, and 'Model Village' genuinely made me check my phone for the song title because I was enjoying it. Again, it's important to note that there isn't necessarily a "bad" song here; it's just that hearing them all back-to-back for 42 minutes is a bit of a slog.
Fans of the band should enjoy it to be fair, but any newcomers will be disappointed with the distinct lack of variety. There's a lovely bit of Piano at one point, to open 'Kill Them With Kindness', but after 30 seconds you learn it's a false dawn and it's another song that sounds like all the other songs. It's so frustrating to have something different teased for us, only to learn it's nothing more than a trick.
Ultra Mono is bland, that's the truth of it. For all the importance of its lyrics, the music behind them does not reflect that. There's no immediacy, no urgency, and no daring to go outside of the band's comfort zone. It's all just too samey, and as a result, it leaves absolutely no mark. Almost all trace of its existence is gone from my head already; this day would not be very different without it. A nothing record.
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