Sleaford Mods: Spare Ribs review – Postcards from a pandemic full of righteous rage and indignation
“Are you angry or are you boring?” asks a piece of graffiti immortalised by Gilbert & George in their Dirty Words Pictures. Sleaford Mods explore similar sentiments on their 11th studio album, the title Spare Ribs referring to how they believe the English ruling classes regard the people they serve. “We’re all so Tory tired,” singer/shouter-in-chief Jason Williamson intones on a short introduction track called The New Brick.
Inspired by the death toll during the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, Spare Ribs is one of the first substantial musical reactions to the pandemic, which is hardly an alluring subject for any songwriter, but one that Sleaford Mods confront in their own inimitable way. (The marvellously monikered Shortcummings was reportedly written long before the former disgraced political strategist famously drove a car to test his eyesight.)
The arrangements are more intricate and layered than the minimal sonic punches of their earlier work, which were marvellously likened to Pet Shop Boys on cheap speed by comedian/podcaster Adam Buxton.
Spare Ribs is also the first Sleaford Mods album to feature collaborations, namely vocals from Amy Taylor of Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers, and Tor Maries, also known as Billy Nomates, plus a spoken-word contribution from working-class Nottingham academic Lisa McKenzie. These are by far the strongest tracks, which greatly benefit from the contributions of their guests.
Mork n Mindy, featuring Nomates, attempts to capture their youth and “the sound of the central heating and the dying smells of Sunday dinner in a house on an estate in 1982. Concrete, dinted garages, nicotine. Where beauty mainly exists in small cracks on the shell of your imagination.” Williamson sings in a surprisingly catchy chorus: “Outside there wasn’t anything nice to see. I wanted things to smell, like meadows not like hell.”
Following its single release in 2020, Mork n Mindy was deservedly voted as track of the year by online magazine The Quietus, which also published an unexpected feature on Williamson’s passion for baking, though it is nearly impossible to picture him on The Great British Bake Off.
Acclaim for Sleaford Mods often overlooks their theatrical sense of humour, as heard on the introduction to Elocution, where Williamson sends up a middle-class commentator talking about independent venues.
While the song subjects are no laughing matter (such as Williamson’s childhood experience with spina bifida, referenced in the melancholic closing track Fishcakes), Sleaford Mods combine humour and insight with their righteous rage and indignation. No one else in contemporary pop is creating such vivid and evocative pen pictures of modern life.