In Review: Sleaford Mods - Spare Ribs
It’s a hard thing for a band with as distinct a sound as Sleaford Mods to keep new releases sounding fresh. Part of the reason the East Midlands’ duo can do this is down to the artistic space their music occupies – somewhere between political punditry and divine madness. Frontman, Jason Williamson, acts as a kind of crazed, disaffected oracle, attempting to sum-up the chaos and enmity of society, snarling at greedy Tories and pompous upper-middle-class art-school graduates. Spare Ribs carries on this custom with gusto, refining its critique to fit the current moment.
The album kicks off with a greeting. In a forty-four second doggerel, Williamson delivers a recap of where we are now, exclaiming “we’re all so Tory-tired!” before describing Britain as a beach where "no one’s surfing" anymore. The album proceeds with Sleaford’s classic swaggering discontent but with more of a feeling of exasperation this time around. There’s a pessimism that invades the work, a reminder of just how bleak things have become.
The idea to call the album Spare Ribs, according to Williamson, came from a feeling that in the age of coronavirus – now 83,000 dead, and counting – human lives have become expendable, and that we’re all becoming spare ribs ‘for the elites’. This overriding concept is a through-line for the album. If anything, what unites the songs on Spare Ribs is a shared discussion of abandonment. This is embodied by the well-spoken chap on ‘Elocution’ who hopes that "by agreeing to talk about the importance of independent venues" he will then "be in a position to move away from playing independent venues". Abandonment is also present in ‘Mork n Mindy’; the story of a "depressing cul de sac" where "blue Monday will someday become you…".
Musically, Spare Ribs feels like it’s proving new ground, and the album rings with an experimental flair from Andrew Fearn – who’s in charge of the beats. Fearn’s work is often labelled as ‘stripped back’ or ‘minimal’, which is true to some extent – his beats are mostly looped and often don’t develop much over the course the track (giving him ample hands-free time to savour a tinny during live shows) – but markers like these are otherwise reductive. You wouldn’t say the same for J Dilla or RZA, who are both profound influences on the band.
Spare Ribs' chopped grooves, which give structure and a backbone to Williamson’s lyrics, are a real joy to listen to. They seem to draw their influences from all over the place; grime, garage, hip-hop and hardcore-punk are all present in the music. The backing track for ‘Out There’ – a dreary vignette of Plague Britain – sounds almost like a grime re-imagining of a Dusty Springfield song, while ‘Top Room’ comes at you with all the quirk of experimental IDM. The album also feels affected by the work of James Murphy and by Soulwax as well.
There are guest appearances too. Melbourne, punk marauder, Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers features on ‘Nudge it’, injecting the track with a gleeful, playground riotousness (“Gimme gimme!”). And Billy Nomates (better known as Tor Maries) joins Williamson on ‘Mork n Mindy’, laying down her typical detached Leicestershire drawl.
Altogether, Spare Ribs is just what most of you are doubtless looking for from Sleaford Mods. It’s a grim reflection on corona-era, Boris Britain, punctuated by grotty portraits and growling, spasmodic abuse. The album is sobering when it needs to be and spirited also. Like all Sleaford records you find yourself listening back intently to Williamson’s disjointed monologues, trying to glean a fresh new critique each time. To be honest, we probably need Sleaford Mods more than ever. No more messages of ‘we’re all in this together’ and ‘the night is darkest blah blah blah…’, the only message Spare Ribs wants to give you is "wake up – we’re all getting fucked!”
Spare Ribs is out this Friday (15th January) via Rough Trade Records.