For most bands, starting an album with a snippet of a crowd chanting your name would be self-aggrandising bullshit, but with Sleaford Mods it’s a far more nuanced statement, those few seconds demonstrating the precarious situation the duo find themselves in. They’re lauded by the press and playing to ever-larger audiences, but still positioning themselves as outsiders (releasing records on underground label Harbinger Sound, having acts like Consumer Electronics or Interrobang? as supports). Jason Williamson is everywhere – simultaneously a thorn in the side of preening indie scenesters and heritage modfathers, and appearing on big festival stages as a guest for The Prodigy – at times it’s hard not to worry where all this will leave the Mods. But then you remember that he’s been doing this too long – and is too fucking smart – to fall into any of the obvious traps. And Key Markets is snarling, energising proof of that.
Any changes of musical approach on this, their third album in this duo form, are incremental: melodically it’s a little more complex, there’s more of an anarcho-punk sound (shades of Culture Shock), there’s a sludgy funk bass line on Silly Me, Williamson is actually singing in places, sorta – but essentially it’s business as usual, and business is booming as the nation implodes. You get swept along by Williamson’s logorrhoea, a torrent of fury and despair that veers from personal vendettas to searing political insight (lyrics about the futility of analysing capital markets) to taking pot-shots at image-driven try-hards (“you’re shit, you look like Rocket From The Crypt”), all of it a sometimes moving, sometimes amusing, sometimes rabid sketchbook of what it’s like to live in this zero-hours-contract, race-to-the-bottom, piss-stinking, bleak and banal world. He’s canny enough to get his defence in first too – “Am I being unintelligent? I don’t care, it’s a war you bastards” – and as he vents his frustration at “our failure to grab what fucking little we have left” over another bare-boned rhythm track, you realise that nobody can touch Sleaford Mods right now.