Dissatisfaction with the state of the world can manifest itself in many ways. These days especially, protest music is an increasingly important way to express discontent with governments that are taking people’s inherent rights and freedoms. Nottingham’s Sleaford Mods—duo Jason Williamson on vocals and Andrew Fearn on everything else—have been doing just that for a number of years now, holding a mirror up to the UK’s Conservative government via their minimalistic, self-styled “punk-hop rants for the working class.” It’s an important statement of intent, and one that propelled the group after the critical and commercial success (at least in England) of 2015’s Key Markets.
This new full-length does not find them diverting from the course. The profanity-laced “Snout” is a vicious invective against consumerism and society’s tendency to mindlessly follow fashion trends, “Cuddly” is a post-Brexit anthem of nihilism that despairs at the ignorance and political apathy of the public, and “Dull”’s post-punk beat despairs at both the tedium of the daily grind and the lacuna of British culture: popular, alternative, or otherwise. “Try scrolling down the website of the NME without laughing,” scowls Williamson. “I’ll give you ten quid if you can keep a straight face, honestly—just fucking try it, mate.” Everything Sleaford Mods say in these twelve songs is thoroughly valid and, frankly, needs to be said. The problem, though, is that the music just isn’t quite up to the task.
Partly, that’s due to the one-dimensionality of the sounds that lay at these songs’ foundations—the insistent, monolithic beats that drone relentlessly while Williamson delivers John Cooper Clarke–meets–Ian Dury–meets–Mark E. Smith barking over the top. On the whole, Sleaford Mods lack the caustic wit of The Fall and the impassioned musicality of The Clash. As such, their message is slightly obscured and diluted, reduced to gratuitous vulgarity that sometimes struggles to get the real point across.