By the time it’s over, there won’t be many people left unaffected by the events of the last twelve months in Britain.
It took a pandemic to do it, but having too much time on our hands has caused the massed citizenry to embrace things that wouldn’t have been in our nightmares during the sunlit uplands of as far back as 2019.
Given their ability to hold up an unflattering mirror to our consciences, there was no way then that Sleaford Mods were going to miss the opportunity to pick at the scabs of government incompetence, class tourism and the claustrophobia of the age.
Spare Ribs is Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn’s sixth album working together, but as well as holding a torch for the disaffected as before, it’s the first outing on which they’ve come to the realisation that they’re also capable of being pop stars, if only by their own definition.
Most of it was recorded in a frenetic three-week period in the early summer of 2020, but the blank mental canvas created by Staying Home before that are Williamson’s chief muse. In his cross hairs is the ghoulish Dominic Cummings, served a verbal kicking allegorically (Shortcummings) and directly (Out There, lyrics: ‘Why’s this c*** got police protection, he didn’t even stand in the last election’).
Those who dismiss the duo as perma-angry dad rappers will feel that this typical gun-to-a-knife-fight approach alone is reason to stick to something less polemical, but as with last album Eton Alive, it’s becoming even for them harder with each release to not have to talk about musical progression.
Take a slug, for instance, of Spare Ribs’ chunky late mid-section, where the fizzy electro riff of the title-track heads towards an empty dancefloor covered in discarded masks, followed by the hi-hats and bass of All Day Ticket, a swinging passage completed by the surf-techno of Thick Ear.
The method here isn’t just turn up and press play anymore; you can hear in each of them that whilst lockdown’s idle hands have been stretching the material in new ways, fresh ideas are still coming out at a satisfying pace.
The two major concessions made though are striking: for the first time there are other voices, in Amy Butler of Amyl And The Sniffers and Tor Maries, AKA Billy Nomates; the latter having first built a relationship with Fearn by sending him music through Instagram. Both tracks are special; Taylor adds a bolshy, deadpan verse to Nudge It – about the fallacy of poverty as a lifestyle choice – while Maries’ soulful turn on Mork N Mindy is a revelation.
That, and closer Fishcakes, dissect Williamson’s childhood, one painted against a working class background and brought back into focus by the daily numbness of lockdown routine. The triggers in themselves aren’t unique, but although introspection isn’t a quality his songwriting has up until now been renowned for, the singer uses the vivid imagery to remind everybody that we all have to come from somewhere.
He, like practically everyone else in the UK, and most people around the world, hasn’t left 2020 without his fair share of scars, ones that just can’t be seen easily but will eventually cut us all deep.
The heroes and villains might stay the same, but Spare Ribs is a huge, electric step forward for a band who thankfully don’t have to be asked twice to let us know what they feel.