Album Reviews

Sleaford Mods – UK Grim

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 10 March 2023

By this point, nobody should be surprised if Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn are still spitting and firing in another 10 years

Sleaford Mods - UK Grim Ten years ago, when Sleaford Mods first came to the public eye with Austerity Dogs, few people would have banked on them still delivering the goods six albums later – partly because maintaining that bile-spitting intensity seemed unrealistic, and partly because those pallid early press shots made it look as though at least one of them would have succumbed to scurvy before now.

But those who knew that there had already been five albums under the Mods’ name before 2013 will have been less pessimistic. Impressively, this latest album channels as much dyspeptic rage as any previous release, and showcases some interesting developments.

UK Grim harbours some fantastic writing. There’s the unvarnished poetry of lines like “When your heart hangs like a loose stool that won’t drop”, but there are also surreal and mystifying barked pronouncements, as if righteous ire and deep sadness are bursting from Jason Williamson in every possible direction: is I, Claudius about dysfunctional families, half-remembered ’70s telly, nationalism, and off-duty Santas scoffing chips? Or all, or none, of the above?

The outstanding Force 10 From Navarone, featuring the current titan of sardonically allusive pop, Dry Cleaning’s Florence Shaw, captures all that’s best about Wiliamson’s current writing, laying down a carpet of potty-mouthed non-sequiturs which are almost hilarious but ultimately hauntingly melancholy, including the syntactically fractured dream-state cracker joke refrain, “Jason, why does the darkness elope? Cross-sectioned; it’s not a drink, and I don’t fucking smoke”.

Despite this, some of the lyrical targets feel obvious. The last few governments might be the worst in the post-war period, but simply saying so doesn’t make for interesting art. Lines like “In England nobody can hear you scream, you’re just fucked, lads” aren’t hugely satisfying, and Williamson’s often preaching to the choir (or at least screaming back towards the rabble). It’s fitting that satirical collagist Cold War Steve created a video for the title track, when Tory Kong stretches the conceit of a tired broadsheet political cartoon over three minutes. Moments like this proves that barn-door targets are disappointingly easy to hit, even when you’re pissing at them.

Whilst the linguistic half of Sleaford Mods is developing in two very different directions, Andrew Fearn has turned in his most musically satisfying set of tracks to date. The Fallesque watchwords are still simplicity and repetition, but there is an attention to detail that gives many of these tracks real quality, from the distorted Blade Runner ostinasty of the title track, to the chunky muscular beat of D.I.Why which could almost have been lifted from a vintage Run DMC track (the song’s observation that hipster musicians dress like the late avuncular TV steeplejack Fred Dibnah provides the album’s first laugh-out-loud moment).

Tilldipper is a roiling rant with a bassline like rubble doing the conga, but this is balanced by the crepuscular wistfulness of Force 10 From Navarone, complete with a cheap Casio Spanish guitar line that could bring tears to your eyes, or the organic squelch of So Trendy which resembles the Teutonic coolness of To Rococo Rot more than it does the punk and hip hop to which Fearn’s productions are usually likened. Incidentally, So Trendy features the album’s other excellent guest vocal, with Jane’s Addiction/Porno For Pyros’ perv-in-chief Perry Farrell intoning like a googly-eyed modern prophet (“Check out all my squiggly veins. I got 57 screenshots in one hour just in case”).

It’s unclear whether future Mods releases will lean more towards literary invention or blunt tirades, but by this point, nobody should be surprised if they’re still spitting and firing in another 10 years. Perhaps they’re already beaming back messages from the future: in the Force 10 From Navarone video, where the performers appear as glitchy holograms of the sort R2-D2 might project – “Fuck me, Obi Wank Kenobi, there is no hope”.

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