Sleaford Mods’ ‘Eton Alive’ album review

A friend sent me a random message some time ago about “this great song that I think you’ll like called ‘Jolly Fucker’ by the Sleaford Mods”. I looked up the song and was instantly hooked. It was my anthem for a while. It is the standout track on the collection of their early singles called Chubbed Up that came out in 2014.

Sleaford Mods’ debut self-titled album was released in 2007 and their subsequent releases have mostly been variations on the same musical theme and that’s their drawback. Samey. Their minimalist musical shtick largely consists of a supremely groovy baseline and punchy beat provided by Andrew Fearn, over which vocalist Jason Williamson delivers the most furious geezer rants this side of Johnny Rotten.

In songs like Jolly Fucker, Jobseeker, Tweet Tweet Tweet and No One’s Bothered, Williamson delivers snarling, and often very funny raps on the minor nuisances and desperate injustices heaped upon the working class in today’s austerity ravaged Britain. As irresistible as Fearn’s work behind the laptop often is, it would disappear into the ether as journeyman lo-fi dance without Williamson’s vocals. And they’ve really hit a chord, as their “angriest band in Britain” profile continues to grow. 

The first single from new album Eton Alive released a few months ago, Kebab Spider, hinted that this album was going to offer a broader range of styles this time. Their 2017 album English Tapas was their most expansive album to date but Kebab Spider goes much further. The trademark bass sound is softened and Williamson’s rapping is interrupted by the chorus where he actually sings! Kebab Spider is a corker. 

The track Into the Payzone is even more of a departure than Kebab Spider. It features pulsing synths and even drill sounds. Policy Cream is a mid tempo groove with a memorable and very dark chorus. OBCT is a more typically breakneck pace for Sleaford Mods than the preceding songs. But again, it’s a deeper and denser song than Mods’ fans might be  used to and even includes a large helping of kazoo.

When You Come Up to Me is like nothing they’ve done before – it’s a quirky pop song. Top it Up is a typical Sleaford Mods tune – driven by bass and anger. And yet it features layered rhythms and background electronics. Flipside is the third best track on the album and is classic Mods but with an almost techno refrain. 

Subtraction is even more techno. It and Kebab Spider are the best songs on the album. The chorus is sublime.

Lyrically, Eton Alive follows its predecessors. There are rants about consumerism, religion, the parlous state of popular music and “shit wages”, but there is a more melancholy tone to match the overall slower pace. As much as I’ve enjoyed Sleaford Mods albums in the past, I never thought they’d put together an album this good. It’s one of the finest albums I’ve heard in some time.

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