Against the odds, Sleaford Mods enjoyed somewhat of a breakout year in 2014. In the twelve months since the release of Divide and Exit, the Nottingham duo have collaborated with the Prodigy, received glowing write-ups from the likes of the Guardian and Pitchfork and were one of the most talked about acts at Glastonbury. So, now that they’re back with Key Markets – their third “proper” album and the first to arrive with any degree of anticipation – will the twosome temper their signature bile and vitriol and smooth out some of their rougher edges in search of a wider audience? Will they f***.
It’s clear from the get go that Sleaford Mods are still adhering to the same murky mixture of hip-hop, punk and distortion that first pricked listener’s ears last summer. ‘Live Tonight’ revs itself up with a rudimentary bassline before frontman Jason Williamson launches into misanthropic monologues about the frustrations of the small town gig circuit and suddenly we’ve set off once again on another depraved and occasionally illuminating trip into the psyche of the modern British geezer.
Pitching himself somewhere between Mark E Smith and Mike Skinner, Williamson’s expletive-filled diatribes read like John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Evidently Chickentown’ transposed to the 21st century. The themes and issues explored on the record remain more or less consistent with what we have come to expect from the duo – wage-slave misery, the disorientation of modern life and the British class system are all given a thorough examination through the bottom of his empty pint glass.
‘Face to Faces’ sees the former benefits advisor spitting venom at everyone from Blur to the Liberal Democrats – “Nick Clegg wants another chance. Really? This daylight robbery is so fucking hateful it’s completely accepted by the vast majority” – while on ‘Bronx In A Six’ he has a go at nationalist hypocrites –“You pretend to be proud of your own culture while simultaneously not giving a f*** about your own culture”. It says a lot about the album that the relentless ‘No Ones Bothered’, with its nihilistic chorus, is the closest the duo come to a song that might be played on the radio.
Meanwhile, the beats – compliments of Andrew Fearne – consist of blunt, minimalistic snares and simple post-punk guitar lines. They are abrasive, repetitive and, for the most part, effective. But it’s not the production that is the star of the show. The music remains secondary throughout the record, serving its purpose as an embellishment for James Williamson’s pontifications on the-state-of-the-nation laments, but never seeks to overpower him.
By the end of the record, you’re left exhausted. There’s something to be admired in the sheer bloody-mindedness of it all. In a climate where musicians seem increasingly afraid to express their feelings on anything that isn’t directly related to the marketing of their forthcoming album, Sleaford Mods offer a refreshing antidote to the staleness present in modern pop music. This might be the eighth album of bile and aggression that Williamson has produced under the Sleaford Mods banner, but it doesn’t seem like he’s run out of steam just yet.