Secret Meeting score: 81
by Philip Moss and Phil Scarisbrick
When you write down that Sleaford Mods are two men pushing fifty, writing minimalist electronica social commentaries, it sounds like it really shouldn’t work. Of course, they will never be everybody’s cup of tea, but their ever expanding body of work is building an ever growing demographic. And the reason is simple: the description above over simplifies what the duo are all about. This week, they release Eton Alive- the first album on their own Extreme Eating label, and it might be their best work yet.
Despite being written through and documenting the most historically significant period in British history since World War II, Eton Alive has more than its fair share of fun moments. Lead single, Kebab Spider, spits and splurts with random ‘oofs’ from Williamson over its stuttering intro, and is built upon beats that are more elaborate than Fearn’s usual compositions. An increasing consideration for melody also sees a simple ‘who knew?’ be the two-syllable hook we never knew we needed. Flipside’s line – ‘Graham Coxon is a left wing Boris Johnson’ – is just one a number of laugh out loud moments across the record. Despite its Stooges-esque bassline, OBCT somehow squeezes in a surprise kazoo solo, while album opener, Into The Payzone, also seemingly takes aim – ‘I don’t use flavoured vapes/ they’re blow up dolls for hipsters, mate’ – before uncharacteristically backtracking – ‘but I don’t mind hipsters, mate, we ain’t hipster bashing fakes!’
On OBCT, Williamson’s change in circumstances come into focus, with the eponymous ‘Chelsea Tractor’ he now drives a nod to the band’s growing success. And acknowledging that he is no longer in the same position he was when writing previous albums – ‘in an house three times the size of my old one’ – is a shrewd move that will help him deflect the kind of attacks he unleashes on other acts on Kebab Spider – ‘We ain’t shoeshine boys for fakers/Bingo punks with Rickenbackers/You’ve had a record deal for nearly thirty years/What do you know about agencies?/Looking for jobs, shit wages/Made memory alone don’t justify.’
On first listen, When You Come Up To Me, feels clunky, but is somehow strangely alluring on repeat listens. Despite being less sweaty than previous albums, Top It Up, is the most ‘throwback’ in both content and delivery. But perhaps the highlight is Firewall, which laments the adverse impacts of social media on his generation: ’Trapped in the mind of something else you’ve become’.
When we reviewed their last release, a self-titled EP in September, we noted it was possibly the best work they’d done. It is testament to their development that this is the case again – only this time across a full long player. Fearn’s beats may be very minimal on the surface, but they create a nuanced dynamic that allows Williamson’s voice the space to resonate. Williamson, despite taking a step up the social ladder, doesn’t seem to have had his ability to pick up on social nuances affected. His use of the English language is both unique and engaging – somewhere between social-reality and social-surreality via Billy Connolly – that provides less knockout blows than previously, instead cherry picking absurd details from a version of modern day Britain that finds itself on its knees. So, in reality, it doesn’t matter how old they are, what genre you want to pigeon hole them into or what label their music is released on. Eton Alive is a great listen and it is their best work yet.