Title: Spare Ribs
Artist: Sleaford Mods
Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Hip-Hop / Punk / Electronic
Released: 15 January 2021
I run my fingers through my hair
I wanna tell the bloke that's drinking near the shop
That it ain't the foreigners and it ain't the fuckin Cov
But he don't care"
It’s been only two weeks after the transitionary period for the Brexit deal has ended, and one of the very first ‘Post-Brexit’ albums has already been released, with Sleaford Mods putting out their eleventh studio album, “Spare Ribs”. I say ‘Post-Brexit’ almost as though it’s a genre, and in many ways, it is, in this case. Jason Williamson has made an album here that channels all of his pent-up frustration and anger into a 40-minute string of vitriol, commenting on the socio-political climate of the UK Post-Brexit, as well as issues that have arisen and lingered from far earlier periods. And along with producer Andrew Fearn, the two have created a really interesting and clever album, which is unfortunately held back by a collection of tracks that are simply too unvaried and mundane to keep the album anywhere near as engaging as it should be.
The production itself, although feeling as though it re-treads too much ground throughout the course of the album, is actually pretty good. The beats are really sparse, delivering a harsh and minimal sound that suits the record perfectly. A lot of the tracks use bass as a driving force; something that seems to be a trademark of the group, and this helps to establish the incredibly skeletal feeling that many of these songs carry. But, at least as a first-time listener of Sleaford Mods’, who has subsequently gone back to visit some of their earlier material, it seems as if this is a sound they’ve managed to accomplish better in the past.
Although Sleaford Mods have managed to create a really interesting and distinct sound over the last decade, “Spare Ribs” is weighed down quite a lot by its repetitiveness. While the sound of the album is pretty solid, the group hardly switch anything up at all throughout the entirety of the record. And this becomes a bit grating after a while, diminishing the replay value of the album due to a lack of variety. As I said, the sparseness of the instrumentals works well with the lyrics and vocals, but the same sound and formula is utilized to an extent that every track sounds as though they’ve simply mixed and matched the same drum machines and bass lines over and over. And this leaves the record feeling fairly stale by its last few songs.
And this extends further than simply the instrumentals. ‘Top Room’ very quickly becomes one of the most tedious tracks on the whole album, mostly due to a repeated vocal line from Williamson which dulls the song down to the point of being borderline unlistenable. Add a dreary beat underneath this, and the album reaches one of its lowest moments. And while not dipping to this level often, this is something that does unfortunately still plague the rest of “Spare Ribs”.
However, despite this, the album still manages to include some standout moments, such as the upbeat ‘Nudge It’, or the dark and catchy ‘Mork n Mindy’. The latter of these has one of the most layered instrumentals of the lot, and it goes a long way in helping the track shine amongst an increasingly monotonous collection of songs. ‘Mork n Mindy’ also shows just how far the inclusion of a guest star goes, improving the track immensely by simply adding some variety. The hook from Billy Nomates is simple, yet effective, but most importantly, it really helps the album feel more diverse. Although Williamson’s lyricism is great, and he contributes a very interesting, idiosyncratic sound, he rarely manages to deviate from his single, specific aesthetic. Nomates, as well as Amy Taylor’s verse in ‘Nudge It’, are extremely welcome inclusions because of this.
On top of the lack of variety, some of the vocal mixing isn’t great. Williamson often comes across muddy under the instrumental, such as in the second track, ‘Shortcummings’, where the bassline dominates over his performance. It isn’t awful, but it’s just off enough to be a noticeable irritancy. And the fact that the instrumentals are given so much focus and clarity mean that many of their blemishes are far easier to spot. This is likely a reason that the album becomes so tired so quickly, with the repetitiveness of the music sitting centre-stage, and ultimately spoiling a lot of the album’s better features, such as the lyrical content.
But although I think the general sound of the album has its drawbacks, something I really have to praise is it’s writing. There were multiple moments throughout “Spare Ribs” that really made me laugh quite a lot, and the lyricism throughout the record is consistently witty and smart. Each track is filled to the brim with creative, funny, and socio-politically driven lyrics, with the album focusing mainly on post-Brexit Britain through the perspective of the working class. The introductory track, ‘The New Brick’, introduces this with a dark warning of the political turmoil the country could be facing in the coming years.
“This brick's got space it's waiting
This mess is nothing, wait
This laughing pig is mild
For what's to come is wide awake
And we're all so Tory tired
And beaten by minds small”
It’s a poignant introduction, backed by a nervous, twitchy synth line that helps add to the uneasiness of the track. And importantly, it establishes the sentiment behind the anger that fuels the rest of the album as a whole: despondence, fear, and a sense of foreboding. While much of “Spare Ribs” is quite funny, or even facetious at times, it’s clear that it’s all stemming from this same anxiety behind the current state of the UK. And this is reflected throughout the album both in relation to political turmoil, as well as social and cultural issues that the group arise.
An example of this is in ‘Nudge It’. It’s a diss-track of sorts, as Williamson pokes fun at other contemporary groups that he feels have appropriated the characteristics and perspectives of the working class for their own benefit. And while it’s quite blatantly directed towards bands such as IDLES, who have been accused multiple times by the group for this very issue, it also seems to be directed towards political figures, who pander to the masses in order to receive public approval. Williamson attacks both sides here, spitting vitriol towards politicians and the commerciality of their jobs, while simultaneously mocking the behaviour of (what Williamson refers to as) class tourists.
“Stood outside an highrise
Tryin' to act like a gangsta
You're just a mime that's spraying and praying on walls
And the after-effects are making my skin crawl”
Other tracks, such as ‘Out There’, are more explicitly centred around political issues, making direct reference to Brexit, as well as criticising the politicians who supported it. Williamson also brings up the division that the country faces as the moment, with people being unwilling to hear different perspectives to challenge their views in any way. No matter how civil the conversation, it always ends in either disregard or fighting.
“Why's this cunt got police protection?
He wasn't even running in the last election
I bet his partner at night sez things like
"It's all for the good of your ideas"
Putting milk in the bowls of his children's inevitable tears every morning”
The lyrical content continues throughout the album to be engaging and interesting, however, as mentioned previously, it’s ultimately hindered by distracting mixing and an increasingly mundane collection of instrumentals. While the album is technically quite rich in material, it’s difficult to muster up any desire to spend enough time to really unpack it. On first listen, this was quite entertaining and interesting, however during subsequent revisits, it’s proved to be a really patchy experience. There are some great moments on here, however they are ultimately overshadowed by at least 20 minutes’ worth of lacklustre material. And while I can appreciate the lyrical substance here, it’s hard to find inspiration to keep coming back to this album. Apart from a few of the songs previously mentioned, I can’t really see myself revisiting this much throughout the year. It’s decent, but too monotonous to become memorable in any way.
While I wasn’t hugely impressed by “Spare Ribs”, I will say that I’m intrigued enough by the group’s sound to want to explore more of their back-catalogue. They clearly have a distinct and well-established style, which works quite well for them. I just think that “Spare Ribs” isn’t the best display of that style. Unless you’re a massive Sleaford Mods fan, I’m really not sure that you’ll get too much out of this project, but there’s still a handful of tracks that are worth checking out.
"She's hot right now, that's what he said
Blokes a kiss arse, silly head
Blokes commercial, boring twat
I don't really like things like that
I don't rate you"
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 27/01/21