Truth to Power
Just when you think you’ve got Sleaford Mods sussed, up they pop to subvert the status quo with a tweak on their uncompromising, spittle-flecked, punk-hop invective. Inspired by the ongoing pandemic, lockdown, and the current social and political landscape, ‘Spare Ribs’ – the Mods’ sixth album – finds them reflecting on the annus horribilis that was 2020, mirroring the despair of a disaffected populace, and dishing out a few home truths.
Pretty standard, you might think. But rather than losing their edge or intensity, Nottingham’s finest just seem to get better and more fired up with each new record, and ‘Spare Ribs’ has a real swagger to it.
Recorded in just three weeks, at their usual breakneck speed, in some ways it continues from where 2019’s ‘Eton Alive’ left off, but it feels more expansive, both lyrically and sonically. Straight off the bat, brief intro ‘A New Brick’ sets the tone as frontman Jason Williamson sings “We’re all so Tory tired / And beaten by minds so small”, backed by Andrew Fearn’s sophisticated electronics – more on him in a sec.
Given Williamson’s withering disdain for the current government, it’s no surprise that ‘Spare Ribs’ is another polemical tour de force. The album’s title, he says, comes from “the amount of people that died from the first wave of coronavirus, human lives are always expendable to the elites… we’re in a constant state of being spare ribs”.
Speaking up for the downtrodden, his semi-abstract vignettes also rail splendidly against inequality and consumerism, but he can’t resist lobbing an incendiary grenade or two at Boris Johnson and his cronies, loaded with wit and typically salty vernacular. “I wish I had the time to be a wanker just like you”, he recites on ‘Elocution’, and “Why’s this cunt got police protection? / He wasn’t even running in the last election” on ‘Out There’.
And ‘Shortcummings’ prophetically foresees the downfall of Boris’ former chief aide (“He’s gunna mess himself so much / It’s all gunna come down hard”). Delivered in his distinctive East Midlands sprechgesang – half sung, half spoken – it’s incredibly powerful stuff, made all the more entertaining by his dramatic phrasing, deft wordplay and trademark vocal tics.
Having worked with The Prodigy, Leftfield and International Teachers Of Pop, Williamson isn’t averse to a good collab either, and Amy Taylor (from Australian punks Amyl And The Sniffers) duly features on ‘Nudge It’, but it’s newcomer Billy Nomates who really shines. Something of a kindred spirit (Williamson rapped on her recent self-title debut album), she lifts lead single, ‘Mork n Mindy’, with a touch of raw, no-wave soul, as the track’s hypnotic, woozy refrain brings to life, what Williamson describes as “the sound of the central heating and the dying smells of Sunday dinner”.
Based on his childhood, it’s no rose-tinted nostalgia, but as always, vividly expressed, thoughts seemingly tumbling out at will, with no filter. “I live on a really depressing cul de sac / Where couples get divorced and people come up that ya never seen before, like that / Smell of cigars and oil, twat”.
Williamson isn’t afraid to experiment either, and more often than not, it pays off. His flow is remarkable – sometimes, the words can’t come out fast enough, as with the breathless torrent of ‘Thick Ear’. And for ‘All Day Ticket’ and ‘Fishcakes’, he shows he’s no one-trick pony, as he forgoes stream-of-consciousness ranting for actual singing.
It’s not all about Williamson, though. The importance of Andrew Fearn’s electronics can’t be overstated. Robust and upfront, they deservedly take equal billing in the mix, a world away from the “rudimentary beats” tag he’s often lumbered with. ‘I Don’t Rate You’ is a swirling banger with tech house/rave chops, while the title track’s low-slung bassline has serious funk.
And check out ‘Little Bits’, the B-side of ‘Mork n Mindy’, credited to Fearn’s experimental side-project, Extnddntwrk, which feels like a chugging, pared-down Renegade Soundwave groove. It really wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see Fearn on the roster at an influential electronic label such as Warp or XL.
Wilful and direct, this is a thrilling snapshot of a duo on top form and supremely comfortable in their own skin. A defining diatribe for these strange times, it finds Sleaford Mods kicking against the pricks with real force and standing up to be counted as – whisper it – a truly electronic duo. Make no bones about it, ‘Spare Ribs’ is their finest and most essential album yet.