Sleaford Mods ‘Key Markets’ (Harbinger Sound)

A surprisingly soft, sweet and emotionally uplifting third album from the Nottingham duo. And if you believe that…

“Sleaford Mods, Sleaford Mods, Sleaford, Sleaford, Sleaford Mods,” chants an expectant, belligerent crowd at the start of ‘Key Markets’ and it feels like something’s about to kick off. But then the third album proper by the titular Nottingham punk-hop duo is reason to get excited. Very excited.

Sleaford Mods’ latest is named after the Grantham supermarket that frontman Jason Williamson’s mother took him to as a child, a humdrum place where he “drank Coke in a plastic orange cup” surrounded by “bright yellow points of sale and large black foam letters”. The new album, he says, is “the continuation of the day-to-day and how we see it – the un-incredible landscape”. That “day-to-day” ethos is fundamentally at the core of what the Sleafords do – a gritty, spittle-flecked invective on what Williamson describes as “the disorientation of modern existence”.

Thrown down at the same breakneck speed as their much-venerated previous long-players, ‘Austerity Dogs’ and ‘Divide And Exit’, Williamson and sidekick Andrew Fearn don’t do tinkering. ‘Key Markets’ offers more of the same spleen-venting bluster, touching on themes close to Williamson’s heart: character assassination, delusions of grandeur, and the pointlessness of politics.

Fearn presses the buttons, his sparse laptop beats, loops and nagging, low-slung basslines providing an essential backdrop to Williamson’s relentless jabber, hurled indiscriminately into the ether. The latter calls a spade a spade, pulling no punches, spewing out bile and fury as he goes: half-sung, half-spoken tirades are splattered with expletives like a Tourette’s afflicted John Cooper Clarke on speed. The social messages are often serious, of course, albeit delivered in an irreverent tone, but there are countless hilarious moments where you can’t help but piss yourself laughing.

It’s tempting to bracket Williamson alongside shouty punk figureheads such as Biafra or Rotten, but to tag Sleaford Mods as just modern-day punks would be doing them a disservice. In truth, they sound like no one else; reflecting the restlessness of the disaffected masses on ‘Cunt Make It Up’ (“Am I being unintelligent? / I don’t care / It’s a war, you bastards”), Jason Williamson rages at the system, spitting out incendiary epithets like grenades.

And so it continues. ‘Face To Faces’ is a feral, rat-a-tat-tat stream of consciousness, crackling with pent-up fury; ‘Bronx In A Six’ finds him full of gobby, indiscriminate attitude (“I couldn’t give a shit what you think about me, cunt”); and on ‘Rupert Trousers’, wit goes hand-in-hand with anger (“Idiots visiting submerged villages in £200 wellies / Spitting out fine cheese made by that tool from Blur / Even the drummer’s an MP / Fuck off, you cunt, sir”). Wonderful.

Uncompromising, thrilling, resonant, seriously compelling: they’re having a real moment. Recent collaborations with The Prodigy and Leftfield are a further indication of Sleaford Mods’ burgeoning prominence and Andrew Fearn’s electronic fusion solo project EXTNDDNTWRK has legs too. It’ll be interesting to see how those ideas might feed into future Sleaford work. The bubble will inevitably burst at some point, but three incredible albums in, with an increasingly diverse audience lapping up everything they do, there’s thankfully little sign of that happening anytime soon.

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