Review: Sleaford Mods – UK Grim

Artwork for Sleaford Mods' 2023 album UK Grim

A career high for Sleaford Mods.

Trigger warning: Contains swearing.

Defiance. It’s an easy characteristic to define and to portray but not so easy to implement in contemporary society.

Sleaford Mods are the very embodiment of defiance. After multiple attempts to make headway in music through the traditional ‘band’ route from his late teens to mid-30s, Jason Williamson defied what was surely insurmountable pressure to give up and focus on the day job.

Then, at the ripe old age of 37, defying the expectation of being ‘too old to make it’, he found a perfect outlet for his frustration in the form of Sleaford Mods, eventually drafting in Andrew Fearn to make the music to backdrop his diatribes.

Since then they’ve been defying everyone and everything, whilst at the same time casually creeping up festival bills.

It bears repeating that Williamson is in the same decade as Brett Anderson, Damon Albarn and the Gallagher brothers, yet Sleaford Mods’ contemporaries and influence can be spotted everywhere, from IDLES to Yard Act to Sinead O’Brien.

Conversely, that defiance has now made them revolutionaries: the duo were slating the state of the UK long before the Brexit vote.

So while turning their back on the world would be an act of self-sabotaging pretentiousness (an alien concept to them), making their twelfth album their masterpiece shouldn’t be a surprise.

You know the format by now: Fearn’s music, while gradually becoming more melodic, is still skeletal and desolate, while Williamson channels his venom and fury into his microphone.

As solid as the format is, it seems inflexible but has lost none of its potency even if, on the likes of Smash Each Other Up – on which Williamson describes the street atmosphere post-Covid (‘no streets no line of thought, no country now we’re distraught’) – his delivery is mellower and more considered.

Or on recent single Force 10 From Navarone, on which Florence Shaw from Dry Cleaning (another act which Sleaford Mods can lay claim to) appears to have caught Williamson’s infectious bile (‘fucking viral fucking Batman video you fucking moron’) before a playful, elegant musical outro.

But fear not, the venom is still there. Williamson is still happy to rail against corners of the music industry, such as on D.I.Why (‘you do playlists for Fred Perry, you cunt’) and So Trendy (‘I’m sick of looking at the Windmill gear, a bag of flour and neck scarf ‘ere’) which, bizarrely but wonderfully, features a cameo from Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell.

Elsewhere, the behaviours of alpha males get short shrift on the ethereally menacing Don yet, as already revealed by the title-track (a play on words of UK Grime -l ike the duo, it shouldn’t work but it does), the overall focus is on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the ‘crisis stamina’ required to live here.

On Right Wing Beast he seems to detail someone who has been radicalised into supporting extremist ideals (‘you’re all getting mugged by the aristocracy’) while on the surprisingly tender Apart From You, Williamson’s eerie foreshadowing is ably displayed: ‘There’s no wisdom and no food running around run round the island now’, against a New Order-ish bassline.

Meanwhile, the dull ache of Tory Kong is self-explanatory, even if it does feature some psychedelic wordplay (‘What the URL are you playing at? We ain’t pretentious, no, this ain’t a disco nap.’)

Although UK Grim does include some naval gazing (Tilldipper and Pit 2 Pit are apparently about Williamson’s shopping habits), largely the album lives up to its title.

An unlikely candidate for a Top 5 album (which it will surely be) perhaps, but that’s Sleaford Mods all over.

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