There’s barely anything left. When Jason Williamson started Sleaford Mods in 2006, there was still furniture. At various points in the fungal growth of this Nottingham ranter’s worldview, Northern soul stabs, movie dialogue and backing vocals appeared as comforting posts to grab ahold of amid Williamson’s lyrical eructation against class, state, shit jobs and “St George’s Flag twats”. By the time of 2013’s Austerity Dogs, just the occasional funky drum break remained. Now, with Divide And Exit, reassuring trappings of music heritage – the looped ghosts of Williamson’s Mod, punk and rap roots – have been pretty much repossessed, and all we’re really left with are Andrew Fearn’s sickly drum-machine beats, pawnshop keyboards, gut-fermenting bass, the sampled whop-whop-whop of police helicopters and the lyrical overspill of Williamson’s cheap-mike vox tirades.
“Sleaford Mods’ world exists on a borderland between coherent and cryptic.”
As with that other architect of shabby vituperation, Mark E. Smith, or the arcane Wu-Tang universe that Williamson also cites as an influence, Sleaford Mods’ world exists on a borderland between coherent and cryptic. Divide And Exit has the cold grainy eye of a pub car-park CCTV, the still-angry ghost of Ray Gosling zooming in on ignored strip-lands of “nine to a cubicle” modern Britain and spewing out attack lines against “those cunts at the top”. But each track also comes spray-gunned with an expectorate shopping list of absurdist 21st century crap; like The Jam’s That’s Entertainment, chop-shopped and up on bricks, a reworked wreck of a classic, scrambling your brain with both its eerie familiarity and incongruous monstrousness.
“Chipboard, Sir Lancelot, fags and meat…” runs a list through the threadbare Eton Rifles riff of Rags To Richard, “local media, petrol stained flowers… 100 percent cod? Fuck off!” In between there’s a chorus: “The fame!” It’s the voice of the oppressed as the return of the repressed, bubbling Lydon gobs from a “tired, wrecked, bored” seer who’s lived 10,000 lives atop a Nottingham bus. Or, to quote another thaumaturge of Modlore, the simple things he says are all complicated.
The chief populace of this Mod’s world are the long tail “gnarly coke death” casualties of ’90s Cool Britannia, “in the top room of the pub getting heavy with a past that didn’t exist”. The message here is: “The Wonderwall fell down on you”, delivered over the nervy bass riff of A Little Ditty with all the Burnage bitterness of a young Liam, freed by They Live sunglasses, clocking the commodified mirage of the champagne supernova.
From their name downwards, Sleaford Mods address the chasm between the dreams and promises of post-war pop culture and the deprived provincial reality of Cameron’s Britain. “Who cares about rock stars any more?” challenges Williamson on the misery-glam groove of Smithy. “Big leather chairs and panelled walls in Tudor flats / It gave birth to a million street alcoholics that you ignore.”
“The battle-zone is relocated to a bleak post-rave, post-Blair comedown landscape.”
As a collection of songs, Divide And Exit also rejects all rock LP lore. There is no ‘sequencing’ here. Each track barges into the next, barked lyrics and fluffed lines bleeding through like raised voices in rented rooms. Divide And Exit has tried to divest itself of all its rock-past dreams. “The dinosaurs are stuck on Denmark Street,” runs a line in Tiswaz, equating dog-end ’70s punk culture with “a crap gag from Spit The Dog”.
Instead, the battle-zone is relocated to a bleak post-rave, post-Blair comedown landscape – “the lonely life that is Tory” – where the counterculture now spends its time “disagree[ing] on social networking sites”. A deep sense of betrayal – class, cultural, and musical – runs through Divide And Exit, but also a need to wake everyone up. Williamson strips away the myths to reveal the excremental stink underneath. The club-footed rhythmic slog of Strike Force points out, “We are caged / Trying to pick preferences from the unlucky dip”, yet zones in on“the petty bourgeoisie with his new van”, who possesses a “real bad cough that stinks of microwaved rice with beef stroganoff”.
The stench is the giveaway. A stink of over-extended masculinity permeates Divide And Exit. On Tied Up In Nottz, “The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon”. It is rotting the floors and “no amount of whatever is gonna chirp the chip up”. In I Keep Out Of It’s non-committal protest at “sleepy village carrot cake hell”, the “green particles from the men’s toilet land on your fucking shirt”. This faecal miasma is permeating and no one is doing anything because it’s been neutralised just enough: “Liveable shit / You put up with it.”
The delivery is relentless. Yet even when blackly funny the effect is claustrophobic, weird, a way of writing about a new era of toxic austerity that feels simultaneously liberating and terrifying. Little optimism is on offer. In fact, The Fun Boy Three chant of album closer Tweet Tweet Tweet feels more like a resignation than anything, an attack-riff on social media lethargy that ends with the song’s narrator necking half an E, and thinking about throwing himself on the Metro line. He doesn’t. “Well I walk back from the train / The Stella kicking in my brain.” But go deep enough, and poetic scraps of Williamson’s dreams remain. Amid the violent opposition of Under The Plastic And NCT a line slips through: “Under the general weight of it all / Exist impossible visions of love.”
If anything, these snatches are harder to take than the effluvium that floods the rest of the album. It’s Lydon’s last words in the Sex Pistols – “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” – become band philosophy, a core of thwarted humanity that means everything to Divide And Exit. To put it another way, they mean it. Maaaan.
Sleaford Mods tour starts tomorrow. See here for more infomation.