Sleaford Mods – ‘Key Markets’

The Nottingham duo are on belligerent form as they put the boot into Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Lauren Laverne

In between the recording of the third Sleaford Mods album and its release, two of its highest-profile lyrical targets have been consigned to effective political oblivion. “Miliband got hit with the ugly stick, not that it matters / The chirping cunt obviously wants the country in tatters”, growls frontman Jason Williamson during ‘In Quiet Streets’. “Nick Clegg wants another chance. Really?” asks ‘Face To Faces’, rhetorically. “This daylight robbery is so fucking hateful it’s completely accepted by the vast majority”. Well, it’s all academic now Jase.

From any other band, right now, those lines would constitute a bit of a howler. And yet it doesn’t really matter a toss, because Williamson and producer Andrew Fearn don’t have to answer to anyone. Not you, not NME, not the DJs who sometimes play their records… Their label boss, Steve Underwood, is a mate from the Nottingham underground scene that spawned them, and Harbinger Sound’s continued existence is largely funded by Sleaford Mods’ unlikely success. The duo have used their total creative freedom to make an album which doesn’t sound like the last one, exactly, but doesn’t concern itself with the supposed importance of ‘progression’ either.

Williamson found inspiration for its title from a Grantham supermarket he frequented with his mother as a child, but ‘Key Markets’ probably has a double meaning with regards the music industry, too. Recorded in the second half of 2014 in piecemeal style, the record is replete with sometimes grinding, sometimes funky post-punk basslines and pared-down, insistent beats. If you’ve heard last year’s excellent ‘Divide And Exit’, or the odds’n’sods that preceded it, it’ll sound instantly familiar.

Sometimes, the tempo is hyperactive, a wilful electronic imitation of punk rock. ‘No One’s Bothered’ is frantic, rhythm-only rockabilly which talks of “alienation”, adding “you’re trapped – me too” like a textbook 1977 call to nihilistic arms. Elsewhere, Fearn has the chance to showcase his taste for Autechre and Aphex Twin-style electronics, a melancholy dub air suffusing ‘Rupert Trousers’. As the title suggests, it’s a pox on Britain’s ruling class, taking aim at the “idiots visit submerged villages in £200 wellies” during 2014’s floods.

Williamson works up a spectacular level of poisoned anger across these 12 songs – about the vapidity and duplicity of modern party politics, and about crap bands, but just as often about unnamed nemeses from his personal life. ‘Live Tonight’ is a snapshot of the smalltime, smalltown gig scene and its irritations. “You run a crap club in Brum – you lose”, scoffs ‘Silly Me’, over a groovy and unSleafordslike backdrop of lowrider electrofunk. ‘Bronx In A Six’ manages to wedge an obtuse jab at Lauren Laverne (“Oooh it’s so nice/Lauren Laverne keeps playing ‘Tumbling Dice’”) in between an eye-popping barrage of random insults you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of. “Where’s yer wife, yer kids, yer house? You ain’t got none, you silly billy…all gone quiet on the wanker front!” Whatever the background details, the vocalist comes off like he’s meeting his foes at eye-level, as opposed to getting a post-notoriety big head and punching down.

Sleaford Mods remain an extremely relatable band – you don’t have to have the same aggravations as Jason Williamson, just a general exasperation with small minds and the chicanery of our alleged betters. How many people need another Sleaford Mods record that sounds much like their other ones, you might ask? Williamson and Fearn don’t seem bothered about the answer, and that obstinacy is highly admirable.

Noel Gardner