In the environment of Covid, many have despaired about living through a time of pandemic and lockdowns. Amid these surroundings that fearless duo of truth-tellers, Sleaford Mods deliver their latest dispatches from the plebeian streets with their January 15th release of Spare Ribs. This their 11th studio release follows both their 2020 compilation, All That Glue and the stellar 2019 studio release, Eton Alive, with the same take no prisoners, tell it like it is philosophy. Spare Ribs was recorded in a three week period between lockdowns in the UK and was inspired by the pandemic.
As per their ever-growing reputation, the duo are keen observers of modern society. Their unique sonics on this release recall musical legends such as Kraftwerk, Joy Division, and The Cure while mixing in driving Electronica, R&B, minimalistic Punk and Rap. The lyrics for Sleaford Mods have always been thought-provoking, and with Spare Ribs, the pair takes the next logical leap in their impressive musical evolution.
Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn who make up Sleaford Mods recorded Spare Ribs at JT Soars Studio in Nottingham. Sleaford Mods like many artists have tapped into the world’s topic during Covid, but none have documented better the dystopic hallucinogenic reality of our weird Covid world. On Spare Ribs, Williamson provides comfort to the listener, confirming they are not alone observing how mad our world is becoming. This has always been Williamson’s calling card, and on this outing, he sticks the landing. It is refreshing to hear someone call out the nonsense, expressing out loud the frustration we all feel. One of the reasons Sleaford Mods are so successful in their spleen cleansing outings is that Williamson is the first to recognize his own hypocrisy on many of the matters he examines.
Again on Spare Ribs, it is made crystal clear that although he points the finger at many others, he also indicts himself. He calls out political charlatans, “Class Tourism” celebrities, and the mind-numbing bureaucratic hypocrisy that is running rampant throughout the release. This is accomplished with driving techno beats and throbbing bass lines that hook the listener.
Spare Ribs starts with “A New Brick” as Williamson clears his throat to declare the UK is completely “Tory tired” and grown weary with the pandemic. This vibe rolls into the fantastic “Short Cummings” a selection loaded with Flea like bass flourishes and early Cure sonics. Williamson takes Boris’ chief advisor to task, questioning how much any politician really cares, especially Cummings who will never suffer from his bad policy-making decisions. Instead, those who will pay will be the working class and the poor. There is also the examination of how faceless authoritarianism is taking full advantage of a crisis to make the average person take a knee. In one lyric Williamson crystallizes a feeling held universally that “Every person I meet needs a smack in the head”.
“Nudge It” featuring Amy Taylor keeps this thinking going as Williamson excoriates celebrities and politicians who play at Class Tourism. These types of individuals make pay off the backs of others suffering, as they play at concern and deliver skin-crawling hypocrisy. In other words, they monetize humanitarianism with a dose of Diamond Geezer Syndrome. This track perfectly pairs with “Elocution” that follows the same themes over a jumpy beat-driven track that harkens to an 80’s vibe and early B-52’s ecstasy in the madness of it all. Williamson takes up the topic of the blatant hypocrisy of our betters that frequently features on the release. The title track “Spare Ribs” also fleshes out these themes with R & B flecks over a techno underlay.
The tracks throughout the release are short but powerful following the ethos of Punk. On selections like “Out There”, “Glimpses” and “Top Room” Williamson attempts to make sense of a world gone mad and made only worse by the pandemic which seems to have pushed the accelerator hastening Western Cultural demise. Out of the three fore mentioned tracks, “Top Room” is a real standout as the punchy spinning accompaniment allows Williamson to do what he does best, as he lays down his observed truths on being in lockdown with the family.
The selections, “Mork and Mindy”, “Thick Ear” and closer “ Fishcakes” go from the external insanity of our current experience to Williamson going back in time to examine his bleak childhood living in an Estate village in a small town. Williamson recalls the make and mend reality of secondhand things and stretching money until it snapped while dreaming of something better. He also reveals the disappointment many of those he grew up with had when they realize the dream never stood a chance of happening. “Mork and Mindy” featuring Billy Nomates continues to share this common theme looking at how the disintegration of the family leads down the road to societal decay, “I wanted things to smell like a meadow, not like hell”. “Thick Ear” looks at the demise of local music scenes that have only been hastened by the pandemic and how “popular” music has been gutted of any universal true meaning.
The second to the last track on the release, “I Don’t Rate You” is my personal pick for the “Do not miss track” of the release. It is a perfect culmination of Williamson’s spot-on observations matched to the wonky keyboard, catchy drums and interstellar Punk punch that makes for a song you want to scream from the rooftops. The tagline “I Don’t Rate You” demands a live performance sing-along that regrettably won’t happen in our current environment. This song displays all the sonic progress the duo has made from their early rough-edged beginning. Across the latest album, Sleaford Mods has been able to buff their sharp edges without blunting their message. This result is certainly a tough feat to accomplish for any band and makes Sleaford Mods even more worthy of acclaim.
On Spare Ribs Sleaford Mods single-handedly attempt to revive our sanity in the midst of a pandemic. They are providing a safety valve for our psyche to let out our frustration while identifying the causes. Sleaford Mods never mail it in; they fearlessly put everything they got into every song making them ever so engaging even if you might not agree with their every idea. Williamson is quickly entering the pantheon of British songwriters who always remain grounded in their very Englishness; Davies, Weller, Smith and Partridge, to name a few examples. Their very Englishness makes Sleaford Mods noteworthy, and they have continued to carry the banner not letting their followers down.
In this dire world situation, Sleaford Mods deliver a soundtrack for Covid and a treatise on the working man’s existential angst over the world’s current state. Underneath the flash of the 24 hr news cycle’s scare porn, the Sleaford Mods provide a true picture of life during a pandemic and suggest that we will make it out the other side if we can use our common sense.