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Track by Track: Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs

On their 11th studio album, you might wonder if Sleaford Mods would start to run out of things to moan about. And then you realise that the entire world, but Britain especially, is going to hell in a handcart. Quickly. It’s a miserable situation for all of us, but it fills you with confidence that the lads will dish out bloody noses once again.

A sprightly opening and a boisterous ‘hey’ from Jason Williamson might fool you into thinking that the band are putting on an upbeat front for 2021, but of course, that doesn’t last long. Amongst the warbling set-up for the record, the line ‘and we’re all so Tory tired and beaten by minds small’ grabs attention.

‘A New Brick’ taps into the Pink Floyd anthem about bricks in the wall, which is apt seeing as we’re all being pulled back to the 1970s because of this government. Let’s hope the concept of a three-day week is as appealing as it sounds.

It would have been fitting if ‘Short Cummings’ was the coda to Dirty Dom’s time in the public eye; a fanfare for the uncommon man, playing him out as he sets off for a long, lonely, eye-testing drive. Sadly, he’ll likely be gnawing away in the background for some time to come, poisoning policy and causing untold hardship for millions.

Say what you like about Sleaford Mods, but they’ve been calling these rats out for some time. Doing it in a manner that gets you bopping and weaving simultaneously is a real skill, and quite frankly, their songs should be stuck on the school curriculum.

Guest vocalists add a new sense of life to the band’s output, even on a topic that has been done to death. The English love a class war, especially when some of the people involved are putting on an act, positioning themselves as something they are not. From Amyl & The Sniffers, Amy Taylor lends a snotty punk edge to ‘Nudge It’, and hopefully some bands will take the hump about a perceived slight.

Fake bands get it in the neck again on ‘Elocution’, with the initial shout-out to independent venues hinting at those who will jump on any passing bandwagon if they think it will get them further down the road. ‘Out There’ has a looping sense of paranoia, nailing the feeling of dread the double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit has delivered. In many ways, it is your archetypal Sleaford Mods track. Andrew Fearn’s hypnotic beats allow Williamson to take a scattergun approach to all who are loitering and in his line of vision It might all be muttering, mumbling and grumbling, but it’s instep with how many have hazily slumped throughout 2020.

After that, you’ll need a cold shower to wake up, and ‘Glimpses’ is a refreshing and melodic blast of optimism. 2020 was a dumpster fire; there’s no point in arguing that. However, the odd flickers of light and warmth have kept us all hanging on, and we need to to grasp the joyous moments, regardless of how fleeting they are.

On ‘Top Room’, the duo returns to the topic of lockdown, this time focusing on the tribulations of dealing with the everyday boredom and pressure. Sure, your social media feed might have been filled with banana loaves and sourdough bread, but lockdown’s been a grinding and draining experience.

It’s hard to argue against ‘Mork n Mindy’ and its selection as the lead track on the album. The appearance of Billy Nomates elevates the song to a greater level. The juxtaposition of the vocal styles, even as they both deliver a slightly sneering putdown, grabs you from the start, and the chorus is sure to stick in your head.

Given Elon Musk’s penchant for outrageous social media assaults, you might think there would be a kinship between the Tesla man and the Sleaford Mods. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and the entitled weirdo gets called out on title track ‘Spare Ribs’.

Most of the people who bear the brunt of the band’s ire deserve it (and a whole lot more), which is why they have no qualms about naming and shaming people like Musk. However, ‘All Day Ticket’ is a more oblique call-out, no doubt a personal attack, but one which doesn’t set the dogs loose on the target. That’s fine though, because you’ll probably have someone from your life in mind when you decipher the lyrics, and it’s another chorus you’ll find yourself mumbling out of nowhere.

As the name suggests, ‘Thick Ear’ is another walk down memory lane, touching on casual violence at home and the desolate surroundings of businesses going bust and lives tumbling down the drain. Well, it might be billed as a trip back in time, but anyone who has ventured onto the High Street of late might find it an all too familiar appraisal.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘I Don’t Rate You’ sees Williamson’s vitriol running out of steam. It’s certainly not an insult along the lines of ‘Graham Coxon looks like a left-wing Boris Johnson’ or ‘All gone quiet on the wanker front’ as we’ve had on previous albums. Don’t worry though, it’s bristling with energy, swear words, and, as is the case with the whole album, it features Andrew Fearn’s ire bubbling away nicely underneath it all.

A Sleaford Mods gig might seem like a comfortable night for Andrew, push a few buttons and have a few drinks, but he puts the hours and work in before a live show. I think this is the case, anyway, because it’s getting hard to remember what gigs were actually like.

The album is littered with lookbacks, and it ends with another dip into the singers’ childhood. ‘Fishcakes’ has a gloomy air, with a slightly menacing twist in the music and hushed vocal delivery. However, there’s also an air of defiance: yes, times were tough, but we got through it. And, collectively, we’ll get through this too.

They’re still here, they’re still as vital as they’ve always been, and it’s not too late to get yourself listening to one of the finest bands of the modern day.

Spare Ribs is out January 15th via Rough Trade Records

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