Political crisis in Britain is not a state of exception but the norm. Over the past decade a sequence of interlinked crises has unfolded like the ABC of a dismal alphabet: austerity, Brexit, coronavirus. The language of cataclysm recurs, words such as “collapse” and “chaos”, but the reality is less immediate. Life grinds on.
Sleaford Mods emerged during the first in the ABC of crises. Released in 2013, Austerity Dogs was not the Nottingham duo’s debut album, but it was the first to find them a wider audience. Vocalist Jason Williamson delivered obscene rants about bad jobs and aggressive boredom in provincial Britain. Cheap-sounding beats came from Andrew Fearn, a fast-food mix of punk, electronic music and hip-hop, moreish but of dubious quality. The songs struck a chord, but they seemed to have limited resonance, to be no more than a product of their times.
Spare Ribs confirms the error of that judgment. It is their fifth album since Austerity Dogs. The others, emerging at regular intervals, have charted the rolling crises in the nation at large: Divide and Exit, Key Markets, English Tapas, Eton Alive. Williamson and Fearn have settled into a groove. Rough and unrelenting, their music has the compulsive quality of an itch.
Their new songs were mainly written during last year’s first lockdown. “Out There” opens with the sound of Williamson coughing over a pitiless industrial beat; he proceeds to relate an encounter with a man drinking outside a shop who thinks coronavirus is spread by “foreigners”. “Shortcummings” makes punning reference to Dominic Cummings, architect of elitist populism. It’s the kind of class hypocrisy that Williamson loathes. However, his verses avoid straightforward agitpop, “the political song competition” that he sneers about in another track. His writing has become more cryptic, harder to decipher.
Like The Fall’s Mark E Smith, he has an ear for surreal slogans (“Panic behind the tills”, “Rows of stale marriage”). His vocal style has developed too, incorporating an uncouth musicality to his usual mode of ranting. He is joined by two guests. Amy Taylor of Australian punks Amyl and the Sniffers bawls a charismatic cameo on “Nudge It”, while UK singer Billy Nomates is electrifying in standout track “Mork n Mindy”.
Fearn’s minimalist beats are deceptively expressive, with cleverly embedded sound effects and naggingly catchy melodies. “It just takes it out of you, so slowly out of you,” Williamson chants at one point as grotty British themes of failure, stagnancy, and antagonism mount up. But Spare Ribs is the sound of a band with the energy and invention to keep on keeping on. Sleaford Mods are lifers, in it for the long haul.
‘Spare Ribs’ is released by Rough Trade
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