On February 22 Sleaford Mods releases their fifth album, “Eton Alive” and once again the daring duo fearlessly call out the ridiculous contradictions of our age. As ever frontman Jason Williamson provides timely commentary on the everyday conditions in the United Kingdom that can be generalized to the world in general. No surprise things are not exactly looking up. Andrew Fearn the other half of the duo has expanded his sonic palette adding some outstanding bass elements and funky R&B flavour to the proceeding.
The “Eton Alive” title is a play on words with Williamson pointing out his belief that we are seeing the results of policies formulated by leaders educated exclusively in privileged schools like Eton. The new release is a cry against being desensitized by the political corruption and thoughtlessness of these policies. Fearn for his part provides an accompaniment that has more pop in the sonics and reflects the duo listening to a lot of 80’s R& B and Funk. The inclusion of these genres broadens their sound without losing their signature Sleaford sonic. On “Eton Alive” the pair builds on the growth of their 2017 release “English Tapas”. They continue to show the enthusiasm both draw from the challenge of what only two individuals can create musically. On the Sleaford’s latest offering, Williamson adroitly utilizes dark gallows humour and insightful observations informed by a working-class ethos to cut down to size the most pompous people and ideas that pervade society. As always there is a significant amount of equal opportunity slagging of the never-ending number of those who foolishly set themselves up as paragons of virtue.
“Eton Alive” takes off with “Into the Payzone” and an addictive throbbing beat. The song excoriates the dehumanization of a one size fits all mentality as the automation of once-human jobs takes place. Williamson repeats throughout the track the phrase “post hate” possibly making the point that the machine is blameless. However, those machines do remove us from interaction with others making it easier to judge and hate people. Williamson is always at his best bringing tossers to account and “Kebab Spider” is another insightful offering in that vein. Here he takes to task the rental a celebrity fakers who have no experience in being working class but are as he puts it “… just saying it to look good.” There is an early Beck vibe to the track with funk galore and a fantastic jangle bass. Tracks like “Policy Cream” and “Firewall Mix 3” attack bureaucracy and red tape at the local level. Williamson points out the shell game the higher ups utilize, as they promise everything on the outside of the box only for the public to find too late there is nothing actually inside the box. The track “O.B.C.T” offers a slice of 80’s pop with a Cure-like bass which is a true expansion of the Mods’ sound. Here Williamson gets a bit introspective wondering if his departure from the hardships of his earlier life is turning him to the prat he often mocks. He ponders how quickly we sell out when we get a little success.
Probably my favourite track on the release is “When You Come Up to Me” which is filled with glitchy computer goodness and Williamson sings instead of using Sprechgesang, his usual vocal approach. On the track, there is a confrontation with a close-minded Brexit individual. Williamson acknowledges how too many people change can be disturbing but that things as they are have to be mitigated. He touches on topics like homelessness, immigration and the unwillingness of the middle class to see the unfortunate and their suffering as reasons things need a good shakeup. He emphatically chases off the proponents of the status quo. But if you think Sleaford Mods has abandoned their “in your face” signature style, songs like “Top It Up” Flipside”, “Discount DIF” and “Big Burt” provide all the classic Sleaford attitude fans have come to love. Each has the aggression and pugnaciousness that has put the duo on the map. “Flipside” especially has a brilliant punk bounce as Williamson delivers a scattershot rant where he lets ever one have it including Blur guitarist Graham Coxon who he describes as “like a left-wing Boris Johnson”, ouch.
Another standout track is “Subtraction” with its wonky keyboards and unique beat which makes it sound like Devo. On the song, Williamson attempts to figure out if it is the inability to adapt that makes people fight change or the desire to keep things exactly as they have been. The Mods wrap up the album with “Negative Script” taking a jab at those who say staying positive is all in your attitude and other psychobabble. Williamson doubles down on his belief that life is no fun fair but it is better to be lucid and aware than being lulled to sleep by the media and illicit substances.
On “Eton Alive” Williamson and Fearn again stun with their fearlessness. Throughout Sleaford Mods discography they continually acknowledge the world has gone mad and not the person who realizes that this is the case. The addition of funkmaster sonics on “Eton Alive” broadens their appeal and help Williamson’s bitter medicine to go down. This addition along with Williamson actually singing on a number of the tracks has only improved their sound. “Eton Alive” adds much to their impressive discography while losing none of Williamson’s anger, it just channels more alluringly. I don’t know how they do it but they just keep getting better.