Music Review: Sleaford Mods’ Divide & Exit

June 22, 2014
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Divide & Exit: Sleaford Mods – Harbinger Sound

I keep hearing there’s no good music out there, but it’s just not true. You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground. That’s all. The Sleaford Mods will have you loving or hating them within seconds. There are no orphan compromises on show with this lot. They are a refreshing sardine and raw onion sandwich-type burp in your face. Don’t like it? Piss off!

Currently the hottest thing on the 72-hour weekend hip-hop movable art circuit here in Chicago, I got dragged into hearing their work by a bunch of my youngest son’s fellow musicians, as if my old Manc’s ear rendered me privy to their obscene Notts meanderings. Due to hit the old colonies on tour in the late Fall, I’m not sure if Omaha is ready, but I am for sure.

Music Review: Sleaford Mods' Divide & Exit

They’re a duo from Grantham in England, a place most famous for being the birthplace of the great British leader, whom the Scouse poet Adrian Henri referred to as “Boadicea with syph,” former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Singer Jason Williamson mostly speed-raps like an obscenity-puking weather forecaster, while his partner, Andrew Fearn, provides coarse backing tracks, which barely get beyond cheap plastic Casio keyboard and Farfisa organ noodling. Four CDs went nowhere, until last year’s Austerity Dogs, which gained quite a following as a raging treatise on the state of things in contemporary England. Along with sometimes hilarious tributes to his toilet habits, Williamson is a perfect cynical black comic narrator of Southern England’s widespread slump into the same state of disillusionment that has plagued the rest of the UK since the Thatcher days.

The notion of being a Sleaford Mod is a fictional construct. Williamson may or may not have had a ‘mod’ past but the music is about as punk as 2014 gets. And although the band’s blog and PR are flush with photos of the two lads in ‘threatening’ poses, they come off looking more like a couple of 30-something guys who mop up the booths in adult entertainment centers than thug-lifers.

Music Review: Sleaford Mods' Divide & Exit

Sleaford Mods songs each sound the same, and that’s the point. Same ol’ same ol’ 14 times on Divide and Exit. Fearn keeps up a simple groove, while Williamson fakes drowning in a deep sea of ebb and floe seesaw purple and obscenity. A hater of hipness because he so obviously wants to be the hippest, Williamson lets fashion designers have it between the eyes on Smithy. There’s profanity and jokes, about a Thatcher-era kids’ TV show Tiswas; lots of digs at folks in the music business; and any number of very British cultural references that will give erections to millions of lovers of Scritti-Politi-type Britpop obscurantism all over the globe. Yes, it’s an angry rant but, yes, it’s very, very catchy and winning.

Very much influenced by The Streets’ Mike Skinner, Williamson’s recorded persona is ultimately that of a poor artist having an argument with himself. Get over the surface obscenities and you’ll find a scathing critique of those who change political parties, in the same way others trade in fake regional accents and ersatz patriotism (check out Livable Shit). “St. George’s flag twat,” he barks, referring to David Cameron’s compromise-drunk partner Nick Clegg. On A Little Ditty, Williamson roars about “gnarly coke-death faces, death death death, nine to a cubicle” before a cheeky voice ends things, saying: “That was shit that end bit, mate.” The effect, for you Brit comedy junkies, is nothing like punk so much as the daft pre-Python absurdist comedy of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan’s Goon Show.

It’s all of a piece. Williamson lashes out with the same kind of post-Osborne Alan Sillitoe-cum-Alan Clarke rage against the machine that had the whole world paying attention before it was softened out by the natural tin-pan-alley commerciality of the Beatles and the silver-tongued, ex-aristocrat pseudo-inclusivism of Anthony Wedgewood-Benn co-opted by his grand messenger Ken Loach. “I’ve got an arm full of decent tunes/but it’s all so-ooo boring!” says Williamson’s broken-hearted poet in the incredibly catchy Tied Up in Nottz.

These guys are not kids, but there’s a real sense of acidic ambition and conviction in their work. Like the early Rolling Stones, Sillitoe’s Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and Clarke’s classic movie Scum, the content is downright radical and catchy. The crude nature of this music is too much for some, but the Sleaford Mods have now produced two superb albums. The mystery of what follows next is interesting to contemplate.

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