Sleaford Mods don’t make music about how terrible things are in the hope that they’ll get better. For the past decade, Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson have channeled public discontent and everyday malaise in the UK, examining their country’s failings and their own. And while they’ve found personal growth and commercial success, the Mods’ outlook hasn’t improved. On his new album, UNITED KINGDOM GRIM, things are bad and only getting worse. The government is incompetent; hypocrisy is alive and well in the upper ranks of society; Consumer conformism is a plague and music cannot save you. This all probably sounds like your recent doom scroll, but UNITED KINGDOM GRIM it is balanced by the mutant electro-punk of Fearn’s production and the absurd humor with which Williamson sows his rants.
Fearn has always believed that less is more. “I think people try too hard and there’s too much crap,” he once said of the competition. His approach is exceptionally austere: a steady kick drum combined with birdsong or the clang of iron, plus a prowling bass. In UNITED KINGDOM GRIM, a simple formula (“Get a really bad drum beat and play a bass line over it”) still leads to unexpected places. If the lyrics don’t offer a sense of comforting hope, there’s still the music’s chameleon vitality, and the strongest tracks contain a moody guitar flourish that feels like connective tissue between the bold beats and cantankerous vocals. On “On the Ground,” Fearn transforms the zaps of retro Atari games into gummy, terrified synth-punk. The album’s weirdest highlight, “So Trendy,” features Perry Farrell in the role of a selfie-obsessed gym buddy who he considers getting a “mushroom haircut and crossover earring.” Synthetic beeps and blurs pop like a Whac-A-Mole, balanced by a rising distorted guitar melody that transitions into feverish surf rock.
In Williamson’s quasi-spoken social commentary, no one gets clean: you’re either full of shit or busy dealing with someone else’s. “I have crisis resistance,” he says in the title track. “Full marathon, four poop breaks.” Even more: “I can feel the shit from your crisis beams/spraying my back.” Ridiculous reality calls for ridiculous rhetoric, and UNITED KINGDOM GRIM it’s an overflow toilet. But Williamson balances scathing takedowns—of the British Conservative Party in “Tory Kong” and inveterate punk wannabes in “DIWhy”—with referential character vignettes and chaotic scenes that turn self-reflexive. “Right Wing Beast” begins by attacking ignorant partisanship, but ends in a revealing monologue about the psychic toll that opposing values can take on a relationship. “I thought about removing you from social media,” he admits, breaking his sing-song tone. “Because you keep coming up with stuff and it’s making me nervous to be honest. I never see you. I don’t want to either.