Sleaford Mods ‘UK GRIM’ album review: a satirical speculation on the UK
Straight out of post-pandemic Britain, Sleaford Mods release their 13th studio album ‘UK GRIM’.
Following their critically acclaimed success ‘Spare Ribs’ in 2021, Jason Williamson returns with his perpetual and argumentative wit, sputtered over Andrew Fearn’s stripped back yet forward-thinking electronic compositions.
“UK GRIM is an extension of what we did with ‘Spare Ribs’. Following the pandemic we put ourselves on a higher plane when it comes to song writing, producing and the collaborations. Post-Covid has made us more determined to keep writing interesting stuff.”
“A link between my obsession with buying second hand casual clothing online and hiding it in my wardrobe because I bought too much I don’t want my wife to find it. It’s not so much about consumerism, more about escapism, trying to take my mind off the anxieties lockdown brought: the paranoia, the anger. I want to celebrate this whole scene that’s going on, well not a scene, a few people selling clothes on Instagram, people are really into it. I’m discussing the effects of coming out of the last lockdown, with the usual array of aggressive lyrics.”
Williamson has always been ‘into the mod thing’, especially in regards to clothing. He runs a second hand clothing account on Instagram and constantly updates fans with what he is wearing.
“Clothes are a big part of my life, always have been. I’m not wearing £7000 outfits stood there with a glass of champagne, it’s reasonably priced clothes that most people buy, and it’s a case of showing off with it. Clothing defines who you are, we haven’t really got a lot else. You can ponder and philosophise and get a greater understanding of the fabric of society. Most people aint got time for that. What else have they got to define themselves?”
The aesthetics of identity and clothing seem to spark Williamson’s interest, particularly the image of those within the post punk sphere. This interesting take on British facades is seen in the second track ‘D.I.WHY’, where Fearn’s slower drumbeat accompanies Williamson’s conversational delivery of “Not another white bloke aggro band, oh yeah, we’re all the fucking same”, touching on a potential illusion of individual identity.
“We partly kicked it off (post-punk). Us and Fat White Family. We influenced a lot of bands. We also at that time passed through the DIY scene. We found it just as snobby as your award show fucking commercial board people. D.I.Why is not a testament to the ultimate truth. It’s a mixture of my nastiness and anger and also not being convinced by these people. People front social issues, e.g. the independent venues things. I completely get the frustration, just because that’s happening, don’t talk to me like a cunt. I find a lot of people patronising and shouting into a void, so to speak. I’m not right, they’re not right. I’m not wrong they’re not wrong. I’m speculating and giving my reaction to it.”
‘UK GRIM’ suggests that the British government construct a nationalistic identity for British people, speculated on in ‘Right Wing Beast’ where Williamson shouts “You’re all getting mugged by aristocracy. You’re all getting mugged by the Right Wing Beast,” over Fearn’s instrumental featuring a stripped back electric guitar lick and 80s style synth beat. Williamson considers the implications of this falsely constructed identity.
“Its dividing people so much. It makes people believe in things that are nasty; it makes people lazy and slow. It’s not right. All of the political parties, well the two main political parties, need transparency and a clearer understanding of what they mean, what they are, what they’ve done. In both a historical sense, but also moving forwards. There is nothing to be proud of when it comes to party politics, or so called British identity. Why are you proud of your country? Of what? There’s nothing to be proud about, it shouldn’t be a thing.”
“There is nothing to be proud of when it comes to party politics, or so called ‘British identity’. Why are you proud of your country? Of what? There’s nothing to be proud about, it shouldn’t be a thing.”
The album’s third track ‘Force 10 From Navarone’ continues to consider “what we are told we own” with the nonchalant input of Dry Cleaning’s front woman Florence Shaw’s melodic yet eerie vocals, tactfully contrasting Williamson’s roars about themes of sobriety and control. This track’s title along with ‘Tory Kong’ and ‘I Claudius,’ and references to ‘Hartley Hare’ in the opening song strongly allude to television and media of the 1970s.
“It’s when I was brought up, it means a lot. To try and describe things in a song I find it really effective to paint that picture with references from the 70s. It’s so unspectacular, in that absolute plainness in that biting normality there’s something really beautiful. It’s a massive part of British identity, the right kind of identity, cultural identity, of things that have been and gone and were communicated to a mass audience.”
Possibly an indication to Williamson’s recent involvement within the television industry, after featuring in Peaky Blinders, Landscapers and The First Team, these heavily laced cross-media references align with the concept of identity as a facade, along with Williamson’s frequent use of dialogue and characters within his songs.
“Working class people are reduced to figures of ridicule, vessels that have been exploited.”
“It’s horrible the way that working class people are presented, there are some justified documentaries. You can document and analyse the life of a working class person without being insulting and demonising. Love Island, the X Factor, Britain’s got talent insult working class people, knock them of any identity and tell them they should be thinking in a certain way. There is an array of poverty porn documentaries all the way to talent shows. Even to stereotypical working class dramas, where there are gangs and people getting killed. It’s not always like that surely. Working class people are reduced to figures of ridicule, vessels that have been exploited.”
‘Tilldipper’ and ‘I Claudius’ enact Williamson’s carefully crafted characterisation. The most punk-influenced track off the album ‘Tilldipper’ follows a character working a retail job told to “Get your fingers out the till.” This high speed head-banger perhaps functions as a sequel to fan favourite ‘Jobseeker’ off ‘The Mekon’ in 2007. Similarly the spoken-word dialogue in ‘I Claudius’ strongly echoes another fan favourite ‘Elocution’ off ‘Spare Ribs’ and again exhibits Williamson’s playful use of satire.
“A lot of those characters are me. Extreme versions of my inner voices, not that I’ve got multiple personalities. There are a lot of violent fantasies in ‘UK GRIM’, sometimes you’re in such a bad mood I could do this, I could do that. There is a consciousness that transfers itself into the music. Violent fantasies may be the wrong word, perhaps thoughts and scenarios, engineered by anxiety, worry, depression, low points. That side of things I thought was interesting; understanding why you’re doing that. It’s not me wanting to commit those acts. It’s been brought on me by low points, or worry.”
So is the UK just a desolate sitcom filled with till-dipping retail drones and “b&m goths”? With nothing to do aside from buying tracksuits and “knocking back vodka redbull”? Yet another head spinning reality check from Sleaford Mods, ‘UK GRIM’ will have you questioning both the clothes on your body and those who told you to buy them.
UK GRIM is out now. Photo credit: Ewan Spencer.
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