Extreme Eating Records
LP / CD / DL
This coming Friday sees the release of the brand new Sleaford Mods album via Extreme Eating Records. Simon Tucker finds a band drawing a line on the past and moving boldly forward.
Stick or twist? Morph or stay rigid? When a true original artist / band emerge and create a new and exciting niche for themselves it is always interesting to see how they decide to pursue their artistic path. So many people these days demand innovation and progression and if they see someone sticking to a formula (no matter how successful that formula is) they often deride and criticize yet on the flip-side to that you have a fan-base that find someone they can truly believe in, a sound and life road to follow and if the artist decides to swerve away from their origins these fans feel left behind or forgotten about. It’s a tightrope many have walked before and with Sleaford Mods it has been particularly interesting following their output as they are a band that were ripe for pigeonholing. With their move into the more popular with the scathing and stunning Divide and Exit in 2014, Sleaford Mods became that classic “voice of the people”. They were the poet laureates of austerity and a broken Britain. In Jason Williamson they had a lyricist and frontman who was our totem pole for rage and discontent. Williamson’s lyrics followed in the great tradition of working class voices such as Shaun Ryder and Mark E Smith where he was at once abstract yet brutally precise, humorous and crushing. The platform that Williamson was able to launch from was provided by musician / producer Andrew Fearn. Fearn’s music was on the surface quite rough and punk edged with the swing and bounce of hip-hop thrown in. On stage Fearn pressed play on his laptop and bobbed his head as much a fan of what him and Williamson were doing as we were.
Now that they had broken through, what next for Sleaford Mods? They gig relentlessly building up and increasing audience size, filling ever larger venues but what about their actual studio output? Well you see, Sleaford Mods have been playing a trick on us all along. With every release there has been the slightest of evolution in both musical and lyrical style. A beautiful slight of hand which has manged to keep many of the original more purist fans happy whilst also keeping critics and media types enthralled and now we are at the moment where the trick comes to an end and we are presented with the big reveal. Eton Alive is the great ta-da. It is the moment Sleaford Mods step out of the realm of critical darlings or voice-of-the-people label merchants. It is the album where they swagger into the league of UK alternative culture greats. The reason for this? Well there are two with the first being Williamson’s change in lyrical tact (more of which later) and the second, and most importantly, Fearn’s musical production. Make no mistake about it, Eton Alive is Fearn’s first bona-fide classic with the whole record drawing in influence from every corner of alternative culture to create a sound that is dense and oppressive one minute, then full of nod and sway the next. Just look at single Kebab Spider. Here is a song that takes the ecstasy psych edges of Happy Mondays and marries it to a gutter funk rhythm making a song so catchy that it plays great on the radio, in a club or on a set of headphones.
Eton Alive’s whole feel is far richer and rewarding than any Sleaford Mods album to date. It is a new British music. A music that celebrates our history yet pushes us forward. O.B.C.T marries Public Image Limited to Datblygu, Top It Up is kitchen sink grime, all metallic percussion and sparse but powerful bass lines, then there’s Discourse which manages to sound like an English council estate Talking Heads….real world music for real world problems.
With the music taking such a step forward what about Williamson and his lyrics? Here we see another change as we hear a man talking his way creatively out of any forced-upon-him (and some could say self-inflicted) artistic corners. Whilst Williamson’s delivery is as on-point, crisp and piercing as ever there is far more variation in it than on any other Mods album. It is that diverse that when he returns to the original rapid-fire word onslaught of his earlier days on tracks like on Flipside or Subtraction it actually takes you aback making that style feel new and refreshing….such a clever move. Lyrically, Williamson has morphed from the sound of “angry young man” into someone who now doesn’t point out targets and scream mercilessly at them, instead he now sounds like someone who is resigned to the world we live in and his place in it. He refuses to pick on “hipsters”and when he does zone in on a specific target (Policy Cream) he does so in such a unique way that his lyrics are a wonderful balance of the obscure yet oh-so-relatable and you immediately know what he is on about even though no specifics are being discussed.
Williamson’s way with abstract expressionism not only serves as a way for listeners to actually make up their own minds about what he is singing it also makes the shock of an obvious and pointed lyric even more of a thrilling moment. The finest example of this is the bleak album highlight Top It Up. The song centres around the damaging cycle of substance abuse and features a scene at a funeral where there’s “two lines on the table at a fucking funeral for someone who got sick of two lines on the table”. Addiction and suicide addressed in one fail swoop. No grand gestures, no proclamations of what the song is about or a big show of intent, just one line delivered to perfection, flooring the listener. A dark and important moment in a dark and important album.
So this is it then. The classic Sleafod Mods have threatened since Divide and Exit. This is the album that sounds like announcing of a new phase for Sleaford Mods. Eton Alive is a beautifully rich album that features their finest music to date. It is no state-of-the-nation address more the sound of two men acknowledging where they are at and where they want to be. Eton Alive is obscure enough lyrically to allow for much investigation and interpretation whilst retaining plenty of punch. It is thrilling and funny, familiar and progressive….Sleaford Mods have done it again, done it better and I for one cannot wait to hear where they go to next.