There’s that annoying occurrence where mainstream attention invariably corrupts artistic purity. It slowly assimilates its intent and tone into safer spheres. Once it’s commoditised it’s then more likely to be sold, well, that’s the theory anyway.
This partly explains the decline of The Sex Pistols. Their sound became synonymous in the creation of Punk’s legend as a mainstream antidote, but only because one of its underlying principles was to ‘not give a fucking shit’. In an effort to find the consistency required to satiate cultural tourism and those who wanted an authentic experience this attitude was bastardised for professionalism. The pressure to be better than they really were, or needed to be, destroyed the band’s method of catharsis. Getting on stage was a release, turning it into a job swiped away the confidence they derived from performing. There were other factors, primarily, the decadence that comes with consistent access to excess.
Knowing very little about The Sleaford Mods I was worried that something similar might beset them, but the release of “Key Markets” and a bit of research, after the last year’s critically acclaimed “Divide and Exit”, quelled any concerns.
In retrospect it was a silly to think the Mods might change. These lads are in their forties, they’ve been in the music business a while now, and listening to the lyrics it’s clear that any idealism or naivety they had about the industry or just life in general has long since evaporated. Plus, why would they change when what they’re saying, and the way they’re saying it, is likely to chime with what people see and feel about much of modern Britain?
Whether these fellas are just, just making music because they can, because it’s better than doing nothing, better than being on the dole, of not thinking about stuff, that getting old is a drag, or because the thought of working in a call centre, an office, or Tesco, is so fucking soul destroying, is their business. What’s important is that they’re doing it this way, without a lyrical or compositional disconnect between them and the listener. All of its constituent parts will resonate; Andrew Fearn’s beats and drum sequences are derivative of the punk and post-punk baselines you’ve heard and liked before, while Jason Williamson rants and swears profusely down the mic with his own East Midlands twang.
But this is more than some riffs, beats and samples and a random collection of thoughts and observations thrown together on top. And it’s also wrong to categorise the Mods as just a rebelling against the state, or Thatcherite capitalism, or the rampant sense of self-entitlement that’s been fomented for generations now, they’re mirroring the absurdities and inconsistencies of modern culture, particularly the ones we’re all responsible for creating and maintaining. This is political satire at its finest. It’s John Cooper Clarke, already aghast at the state of things, with a few pints in him, who’s finally pushed over the edge by the sight of some dickhead wearing a £250 pair of designer trainers, taking pictures of urban decay and “scroungers” with an iPhone because ‘it looks edgy’. It’s the music of consciousness, how justice can be found in ideas, you know, the things that actually matter.
This stream of consciousness delivery, energised by hurried Punk templates, isn’t usual, because it isn’t easy to pull off. There are rhymes, of course, but they never come at the expense of Williamson’s attempt to get a message across. His verbal bullets veer from comedic interludes ‘I just wanked in your toilet’, self-depreciation, to personal experience and wider cultural commentaries ‘the lonely life that is Tory’, often in a single verse. Take the start of ‘Tied Up In Nottz’, is there a more evocative opening line to a song than ‘The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon’? The following lines fizzle from one visual vignette to another, depicting a cacophony of sights and sensations that could, and probably do, occur in any generic city or town centre – ‘Kevin’s getting footloose on the overspill/Under the piss station/two pints destroyer, on the cobbled floor/No amount of whatever is gonna chirp the chip up/It’s the final countdown, my fucking Journey’. ‘Tied up in Nottz’ best reflects our general unhappiness and that this makes us reach for means of futile escape. The freneticism of the imagery is reminiscent of how needlessly fast we seem to live. We’re bombarded continuously with choice, by advertising and technological advances, and in a fear of being left behind (of what, by what?) we consign ourselves to a self-involved bubble just to keep ‘our’ place, often barely managing to do so.
Williamson also uses his personal irritations with cultural signatures of mediocrity ‘St. George’s flag twat’ to fuel his anger at our inability to do anything about them. ‘On Cunt Make it Up’ he scornfully compares the cynicism of those profiting from a ‘shit singer studying the band’s dinner’, a ‘Circus band, ran by circus man’ lowering the bar of popular culture’s musical fashions and trends to an identikit morass, just to make money ‘and you always wannabee the same, posy shit, leather jacket’ to a form of resentment that exposure to this kind of fraudulence or deceit evokes in its worst, ugliest extreme ‘an old codger with one leg sitting in his prefab/hating men, hating the state/they sent the poor cunt to war mate. You’re him, you’re fucking bleak, little worm, tryna suck the juice out of a tuna tin’.
This theme is explored with more depth on ‘In Quiet Streets’. It seeks to reveal the root of many common White Van Man, UKIP voting, Daily Mail reader prejudices. It juxtaposes tragicomic allegories of the majority’s destructive self-serving apathies towards politics, culture and social change ‘But in the old days you had to lead a group of men up a hill/And got’em shot by locals mate/Not now, now money murders/We put our souls in Nursery for a day/Pick’em up after work, take ‘em home/Try ‘n get ‘em in bed tucked up before ten o’clock’ and how this unsympathetic attitude is used to marginalise the poor, who are then demonised and manipulated to help impose political doctrines, ‘The rulers don’t care it’s still the 70’s/and they laugh at our ugly double denim/we are the wooden horses on wooden race courses at fairs/the top prize is damaged organs and nobody cares’.
Like ‘In Quiet Streets’ certain songs home in on an overarching theme. Screaming ‘god save the queen, she aint no human being’ had shock value, but it’s more effective to attack one of the ludicrous results of her immense, perpetual tax payer funded privilege; ‘The Corgi, is always warm at night’. Miniature prize bred dogs are all the rage right now, they’re commodities like handbags or smartphones, but them being this well treated, and by something that justifies its existence through tradition, or widely speaking, wealth, is especially poignant when a political ideology is exacerbating the disparity between the rich and the poor, ‘it’s a war you bastards, slash and despair’ and there’s tens of thousands of Syrian immigrants streaming into Western Europe with literally fuck all but the clothes they’re wearing. ‘Middle men’ is a diatribe against London’s concentration of wealth as a politicised venture, in an effort to afford the excesses of political class culture as safe a distance from the realities of actual culture as possible.
While the political commentary is incessant throughout both albums, a lot of comedic scorn is aimed at the music industry, and it’s thoroughly deserved. ‘Bronx in a Six’ manages to combine an all-out assault on (what I assume is) a specific case of sad try-hard hypster materialism, finding it synonymous with a style of cliquish, boring commercial music coverage that’s all too prevalent right now ‘All gone quiet on the wanker front/Gary Cooper’s on the glue cause he stuck to his guns/Radio edit, oh it’s so nice/Lauren Laverne keeps playing Tumbling Dice/just like you with ya maharishi shoulder bag/walking the strip like you own the fucking path’.
Musings of this ilk reflect many of my own opinions; that ‘cunts’ have no taste in general, how there are many more of them than there are of us (which is how White Van Men feel about immigrants and benefit claimants, right?) and that this schism emboldens frauds and chancers like Simon Cowell to further our descent into cultural and artistic bankruptcy.
But this is ‘Liveable Shit, you’ll put up with it’, right? The caustic bitterness and resentment that the Mods display for cynicism and how easy it is to sell crap music with little thought put into it ‘no understanding of what it means to write these tunes/on the highway of fucking artistry’, suggests not, and I like that, for a number of reasons. For one people need telling, and because above all else it means the Sleaford Mods, as they are, aren’t finished yet.