Music Reviews
Key Markets

Sleaford Mods Key Markets

(Harbinger Sound) Rating - 8/10

What's great about the new Sleaford Mods record is that this band has entirely resisted change in the wake of their modest success. All I could ever ask from them is shitty bass guitar riffs, unsyncopated drum machines, and Jason Williamson; Key Markets doesn't disappoint. Their commitment to their aesthetic and their ability to use it to say new things is unflagging. You sense that their third album as a twopiece (Williams' eighth, I think, overall), would have sounded pretty much the same had they remained at the level of obscurity you'd expect from such a fiercely anti-commercial band, who are still releasing music through a Nottinghamshire bus driver's experimental music label (Harbinger Sound), even as it entered the UK album chart at number 11.

One thing that fascinates me about Sleaford Mods is Jason Williamson's use of perspectives. Never are you totally clear if he's being himself, the person he used to be, the voice of an oppressor, or the voice of the downtrodden. The lyrics sheet is written in mostly unpunctuated, unenjambed, lowercase prose, and his delivery does nothing to help distinguish the multitude of ideas and viewpoints in each verse. It's full of daft half-jokes, shouted nonsense, misdirected threats, and it's funny, stupid, and trenchant, all at once. This is intrinsic to any claim that he's the voice of austerity-era Britain (I can't think of anyone else in music who comes close) – that the fabric of what you're hearing is painfully everyday, familiar to anyone who's spent any time in UK city centres, and that individuals are woefully subsumed into this fabric. These are voices falsely trying to escape from the boredom: “We put our souls in nurseries for the day pick em up after work take em home try 'n get em in bed tucked up before 10 o'clock good drones” - anyone rich or poor can relate. But make no mistake, he's in the latter corner - “All ya chinney wine tasters die in boxes like the rest of us wasters” he declares on Bronx in a Six.

Though the record's voices are subsumed into one noise, the distinctions between the ruling classes and the rest of us is in real terms constantly pronounced; this is contextually crucial, since the UK wealth gap's widening with devastating speed five years into a Tory rule. If Sleaford Mods've ever worn their hearts on their sleeves, it's on Rupert Trousers, which literalises the destruction caused by “Boris [Johnson, Mayor of London] and the brick” in arcing, run-on lines – from the visceral “smoking tanks near the burnt parish” to horrified realisations about the condition of the soul - “sex is like a feature a boundless toy to use squeeze the ropes traction to use”, the whole song delivered in a desperately bleak two-note prosody.

While little of their work deviates from the show-don't-tell rule, there's a heavily politicised slant to much of the record. It's more quotable but its messages are perhaps a little predictable. Positively axiomatic is one declaration on Face to Faces: “This daylight robbery is now so fucking hateful it's accepted by the vast majority”. Sleaford Mods are more effective at giving the symptoms rather than the diagnosis – one could perhaps wonder if their newfound exposure has lead Williamson to underscore his political position, or if it's just that the times call for more explicit rhetoric.

I also have to mention Andrew Fearn's renewed ingenuity as a producer. Three albums in and I still can't imagine a better foil to Williamson's performances than Fearn's spartan arrangements – but the subtle touches he gives to Tarantula Deadly Cargo and Rupert Trousers are inspired. He also helps drive home No One's Bothered, which has the structure and bounce of a punk single, stretching somewhat from their comfort zone. Williamson delivers a brilliant line on Bronx in a Six on which he briefly centers his crosshairs on BBC 6 Music (and there're much easier targets out there) - “Lauren Laverne keeps playing tumbling dice” - which is simply a brilliant metaphor for the blind faith invested in so many unoriginal musicians.

There are themes running deep through Williamson's body of work which could be the theses of dozens of essays – I wish I had time for further discussion of the undercurrent of religious imagery on this record, or for the use of grammatical persons & the implication of the listener, the deployment of humour as pathos… But Sleaford Mods mightn't approve of close analysis of their themes, crudely dismissing the efficacy of armchair politics on Face to Faces - "its implications are fucking meaningless mate". Still, let's hope Sleaford Mods continue to cause a stir.