Sleaford Mods in BerlinStefan Müller

I recently heard a Radio 1 interview with a band who were about to release their debut album. They were asked how they felt about the fact that they would soon lose sole possession of their music, and that other people would begin constructing their own individual relationships with the songs. I can’t remember what the band replied or who they were – so it’s not a very good anecdote – but I thought it would be a catchy way to start an article, and I thought it was quite a good question. I’ve bought Sleaford Mods’ latest album Spare Ribs, which came out last month, but even though I’ve obsessed over it to an extent possible only at a time when leaving the house to buy some crisps could mean you accidentally kill a pensioner, I don’t feel like I actually own any of the songs. Instead, they will always be the property of Sleaford Mods.

“It’s clever, it’s compelling, and it makes you feel angry”

Before I move on to my moralising exegesis of the album, I should first say that it sounds great. Andrew Fearn wrote the music and it’s dynamic, uncomfortable, forceful and whatever other naff buzzwords you want. Together with Jason Williamson’s rhythmic, half-rhyming rants, the tone is set perfectly. The lyrics speak of hopeless anger at a heartless society, but Fearn’s punkish beats don’t allow for something as poetic as despair. This is the sound of resignation which, for me at least, is something even more powerful. While art communicates despair in a way which allows us to say things like “bro I don’t know this just really speaks to me,” the sardonic and often deeply personal tone woven into Spare Ribs never provides this luxury of being included.

This is not the case at first. The opening track contains the lovely line “we’re all so Tory tired, and beaten by minds so small”, and is followed by Shortcummings, which puts Dominic’s minor setback after his escape to Barnard Castle alongside the story of a man who is stripped of his pride and without hope of escape even in precedented times. It’s clever, it’s compelling, and it makes you feel angry.

“How embarrassing then, to hear this world turn its attention on you”

Sleaford Mods in Manchester, 2017S. J. Harrison

Yet, just as you’re thinking “finally, my kind of music #fuckthetories” and beginning to scour Depop for that rough, urban-vintage look that these guys wear and you’re now kind of into, the third track makes you realise that, when Jason says “every person I meet needs smacking in the head,” he probably means you too. Nudge It is a song directed against people who, to paraphrase the YouTube description, enamour their ideas with hypothetical notions of life in reduced circumstances. The Mods have repeatedly refused to be generalised into becoming “the voice of the working class” and Nudge It drives this message home. We’re very good in Cambridge at thinking up neat little models for mapping out reality, using them in half-drunk conversations on the floor of someone’s college room where the problems of the world are defined and the solutions hammered out. How embarrassing then, to hear this world turn its attention on you:

“The kudos makes it float on top where it stays. And, the sequence of not being that close to its face and Just stuck on silly ideas cos it’s all you can do. Your car ain’t got no brakes mate, it’s just laffin at you!”

Andrew pictured in 2019Stefan Müller

Nudge It talks about an immediately experienced reality, a feeling of “mindless abandon”, of being “hard choked into inaction”. There’s no philosophy, no concepts, no programmatic evaluation of the systems of capitalism or the benefits of universal credit. Having allowed you to settle down for a comfortable bit of Tory bashing, Spare Ribs tears the rug from beneath your feet and tells you to fuck off. “Bit rude,” you think as you stand up, rubbing your aching behind, but then it dawns on you that there’s now only one thing you can do with this album: listen. The Mods own this narrative, not you.

“It reminds you again that these stories are personal”


Mountain View

A Tribute to SOPHIE

So Spare Ribs continues, and Jason leaves Westminster out of it from now on. Instead, he aims at everything from bleak seaside towns to socially distanced conversations: “I don’t want to talk to you, you cunt, you boring fucking cunt”, he muses. I won’t go through every song, safe to say that they all paint Britain as unrelentingly shit. Ironically, they also insist on the pointlessness of complaining: “the system won’t go”, as Billy Nomates flatly observes in Mork N Mindy. You’re presented with life as it’s lived for many of Britain’s most destitute, not couched in theories or the idea of a movement, but powerless and bitter. It ends poignantly, the song Fish Cakes reflecting on when all that anger felt like it meant something: “And when it mattered, And it always did, At least we lived”. After all the fun and funny elements of the songs, it reminds you again that these stories are personal, and the situation they describe is crippling. Though the thought of this makes me feel sad, Spare Ribs insists to the very end that I’m working with borrowed melancholy.

A concept people are often fond of using today is the need to “start a conversation”, but it seems to me that Spare Ribs calls on us just to shut up and listen for once. In the spirit of this, I’ll shut up and let you listen. Buy the album. It’s good.