Sleaford Mods are some of the last punks standing. Their songs are slim, no muss, no fuss affairs. Like ESG before them, the pair rely on a basic setup of bass and drums to carry hip hop infused vitriol to the listener. They are lyrically snotty and upfront with tales of frustration and degradation at the hands of a society which has bred and demeaned them. What their words offer is an insight into the world of the marginalised; people feeling the impact of austerity politics, Brexit and the complacency of the South to the suffering of the North. Yet it isn’t all politics, doom, and gloom; there are generous helpings of piss and vinegar too. English Tapas, isn’t reinventing the wheel or breaking any boundaries, but it’s still a caustic, vital record and one that offers a distinctive voice to our modern dysphoria.
Throughout the record there are fantastically witty and cutting jabs at a vapid, solipsistic society which has prioritised social media, vanity fitness and pop cultural obsessions over basic human decency. But most importantly, nothing about them can be easily digested or made ambient. It’s confrontational in every aspect and yet has the consideration and heft to be more than a nuisance. An impossible gulf separates them from what we’ve told to consider “punk” as being. The Nottingham duo’s emaciated, regional interpretation of the genre is at odds with 99% of their peers. Punk was to be the great unifier, coalescing the forgotten and dispossessed. While it has evolved, been chewed up, spit out and regurgitated many times over, for some this ideal is still there. For those who hold onto that hope, Sleaford Mods are the sermon you need to hear. They offer a perspective that our sheltered, echo-chambered world view needs.
The distance between this album and their previous output is minimal. That ever-present balance of playfulness and unrelenting fury that makes things so exhilarating still reigns supreme. The production is a tad crisper and there is a slight increase in the musical scope on display. Fundamentally, though, the songs remain unchanged. This is still minimalist punk music. It owes a huge debt to hip-hop as the bass carries the melody and the simple looped drums carry everything else. Jason Williamson’s tobacco stained sprechgesang vocals have the same scabrous charm of Ian Dury, John Cooper Clarke, and Shaun Ryder. If there is a conflict at the heart of the record it is one of resignation versus resistance.
Williamson can’t seem to decide what’s the right choice. On the one hand, evidenced in ‘Carlton Touts’, he believes that “the future is a flag pissed on in a full-sized bag of quavers” and pleads for the controlled chaos of the neo-liberals. He does so with only a twinge of irony. He loathes society’s newfound self-aggrandisement and self-obsession. Social media (‘Snout’) and gym culture (‘Army Nights’) are two victims of his spiky and lager-drenched wit. Even the title of the album is evidence of the how insincere and nonsensical this culture has become. It’s taken from a pub advertising a platter of chips, a scotch egg, a mini pork pie and some pickle as the titular cuisine. Nothing makes sense, no one is in control and we’re all naval gazing. Yet in spite of all this, they conjure and encourage this dysfunctional sense of community.
The duo is trying to bring the similarly disenfranchised together. If we solidify and stop putting up with so much bullshit from ‘Brex City Rollers’ and worst leviathans of our culture, we could possibly stop them. We could overcome the worst parts of ourselves and be better. Or at the very least, we could piss in the eyes of our foes and let them know we won’t listen. There is a freedom in that fracas. There is brilliance in these mods. Will Murphy