Favorite Track: “Nudge It (feat. Amy Taylor)” Least Favorite Track: “Glimpses”
Since his band’s 2013 debut Austerity Dogs, Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods has never been afraid to speak his mind. His and Andrew Fearn’s output as a duo has never been lyrically devoid, focusing instead on hot topics. From defending the British middle class, to hate-filled rants levied at UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson; they rarely hold back. The pair’s new album Spare Ribs is as blunt as ever. Williamson attacks class tourism, COVID-19, and per usual defends the British middle class, all in his signature style of sprechgesang that's equal parts Zach De La Rocha and Gil Scott-Heron. Unfortunately, the Mods don’t do much in terms of innovation on Spare Ribs. The band fails to venture into new territory, leaving the album to feel like more of the same from the duo.
Sleaford Mods have never employed a sound that’s easy to pin down, and Spare Ribs is no exception. The LP dabbles in punk-hop, post-punk, and electronica. This mix of genres combined with Willlaimson’s unique style of vocal expression have always made Sleaford Mods stick out. This album's sound is equally unique, but it remains painfully over-consistent and predictable once the project crosses the midway point. Despite this, the band opens the outing with momentum. “Shortcummings” is the first track following the intro and serves as an early highlight in the tracklist. The song's real enjoyment comes in the form of its infectious hook, yet through and through, it’s an average Sleaford Mods track. An over-exaggerated bass guitar line from Andrew Fearn makes up the majority of the melody, with some fun live drums and thin hi-hats tones that mimic the ticking of a clock. Track #3 is yet another one-up, with “Nudge It (feat. Amy Taylor)”. Staccato keys and loud kick drums make up the vast majority of this instrumental, in a fashion of minimalism that at this point is engraved into the sleeves of Sleaford Mods. The song covers class tourism, which is defined as “the act of deriving pleasure or amusement from the customs, mannerisms, and behavior of people of lower social class, especially when observed from an online multimedia source”. This is behavior that Sleaford Mods have mocked in the past, but this time, they don’t leave anything out. “Stood outside an highrise/Tryin' to act like a gangsta” Willaimson spits during the tracks endearing refrain. A cold-hearted verse from Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers follows, and wraps a bow around this album’s clearest highlight.
Track #4 jumps at the opportunity to take yet another topical risk. “Elocution” is all about greed. The track’s intro hilariously sees Williamson mocking musicians who “talk about independent venues so they can get in position to move away from playing independent venues”. The instrumental utilizes a trademarked Sleaford Mods minimalistic sound, with their signature exaggerated electric bassline, and some new-wave esque guitar riffs toward the end. Unfortunately, the song ends the strong first leg of Spare Ribs. The project begins to run downhill, tumbling over itself with each ascending step. Track #6 “Glimpses”, severely lacks instrumental variance. Its loud bassline and four to the floor esque, simple, drum beat overstay their welcome, refusing to alter their presentation during the song’s entire runtime. Williamson’s unmelodic and repetitive vocal line here adds to the monotony quite a bit. Track #7 “Top Room” is equally as boring and directionless. Again, this beat is very non-discrete and repetitive, made up of a very elementary 4/4 drum groove and what sounds like heavily arpeggiated synthesizer loops. It feels less like the topical focus usually possessed by Sleaford Mods, and more like an aimless, drunken rant.
This band often revels in their innate ability to turn minimalistic soundscapes into instrumentals that sound much larger and fuller than they really should. When they do this, they’re at peak performance. But, there are moments on this album where they fail to get there. Songs like “Thick Ear” and “I Don’t Rate You” fit snugly into this category, and peril in comparison to many of tracks from the first leg of the album. The presence of these songs is far less memorable than what comes before it. They lack the edgy and sharp ethos that generally makes a Sleaford Mods track enjoyable.
While Spare Ribs definitely has its moments, it struggles as a complete body of work. The first leg offers true and exciting direction, but the album slowly loses focus. The second half, while not inherently unlistenable, comes off superbly underwhelming. Sleaford Mods have a more than interesting sound, one that provides a mix of genres that few current acts inhabit; yet it doesn’t feel like they have fully hit their stride. Spare Ribs isn’t their saving grace like it could have been, because it doesn’t leave the impact that it needs to.