When they’re not playing prolier than thou with IDLES or dropping colloquial bon mots on Twitter, the Mods can still knock together a decent tune or two. This, their first on their own Extreme Eating imprint, is Sleaford Mods in excelsis – witty, ranty, not taking any shit, nor giving one.
Suspicions have always lingered that they’re one trick ponies. But shouty-provincial-bloke ‘n’ beats has proved to be a durable, even versatile, tool for expressing disgruntlement at the hydra-headed vexations of our times. In fact, as Williamson gets older and crabbier, this shtick might be getting more effective. A future as a curmudgeonly cult hero in the John Cooper Clarke mould may await. [Cut to 2040 and an Old Man Steptoe version of Jason Williamson ranting about bin collections. Actually, scrap that – he’s already doing it. “I’ve got two brown bins, I should only have one, but what the council don’t know won’t hurt them,” he explains on Policy Cream.]
Part of the reason for the Mods’ durability is they keep finding new twists on that basic musical formula. Whether it’s dialling things down for When You Come Up To Me, working up a Bad Manners-y knees-up on Discourse, or sticking a preposterous kazoo solo on OBCT, there’s always new ways to serve this particular dish. OBCT is particular tasty – threatening to burst into 80s electro until it all kicks in with a PiL-like dread.
Another reason they persist is that Williamson’s semi-coherent lyric spitting contains gems of social insight and quotable put downs. “Graham Coxon looks like a left-wing Boris Johnson” (Flipside), “You’ve had a record deal for nearly thirty years. What do you know about agencies? Looking for jobs, shit wages” (Kebab Spider). There will only ever be one Mark E. Smith but for those missing his barking mad philosophies and non-sequiturs, Williamson’s not a bad substitute. “Into the payzone! Touch card!” (Into The Payzone), “Airfix dickheads, you snap-on tools!” (Big Burt) are fine MESisms.
The other thing about the Mods is their urgency. Not the live fast die young urgency of youth, the urgency of 40-somethings realising they’ve belatedly been given a chance. It’s not something they’re about to piss away. They’ve got focus. They’ve got lost time to make up on. They’re mature students doing the extra reading and handing their essay in early. It’s why they churn these albums out like men in a hurry. This is their fourth in five years since their 2014 breakthrough.
And maybe on Eton Alive we begin to see the first signs of vulnerability. Yes, it’s all still ugly and shouty, as you’d want, but look at the bromantic selfie on the cover. Then listen to Firewall, the nearest the knuckle emotion they’ve ever shown: “You’re getting older / You’re getting slower to the point where you’re no use… You don’t know you’re crying at all because of your firewall”. Sad Sleafords is surprisingly effective. Let’s hope it’s a furrow they continue to plough.
The Fat Whites have now piled in to the diss fest with a swipe at both Sleaford Mods and IDLES, and Williamson’s struck back by comparing them to Moby (below the belt, surely, guv?) With all three having albums in the offing, it sets up 2019 to be a right Royal Rumble of grizzly old bloke bitch fighting. If it helps them raise their game, bring it on. Eton Alive is definitely first blood to the Mods.