Way back in December 2014, Sleaford Mods were staying round my Heaton flat having just played to a half-empty Tyne Bar. Frontman Jason Williamson wandered from room to room like a caged animal, muttering to himself while consuming the contents of my advent calendar and cutting his fringe with a pair of nail clippers while I sat bewildered in the living room.
‘Don’t worry, man,’ Andrew Fearn (the other one), reassured me. ‘That’s just Jay.’
This was a watershed moment for the Mods: the culmination of almost a decade’s worth of hard work, dogged self-belief and determination; and probably one of the final times anyone could hope to catch them performing live in a small pub in Northern England containing just twenty or so indie stragglers.
Having previously placed themselves shoulder to shoulder with the UK’s underclass, their latest release (and first on Rough Trade), English Tapas finds them at a peculiar kind of career apex where the success, plaudits, and endorsements from the likes of 6Music, Pitchfork, Stewart Lee and Iggy Pop has permeated their work with a potential for insincerity that a lesser writer than Williamson might have let get to him. Instead, he tackles the issue head-on in Just Like We Do: ‘funny how fucking England hates any success / I know the feeling dickhead cos’ I used to be one of them.’
Fearne’s minimalist beats, loops and fuzzed-up punk bass riffs are as catchy here as the Sham 69-via-East Midlands choruses, and as pleasingly idiosyncratic as Williamson’s lyric sheet which, on lead single and stand out track B.H.S., continues to document the current state of the United Kingdom as though he were the Philip Larkin of the dole queue.
Thematically and sonically, very little has changed for the Mods (although album closer I Feel So Wrong experiments with actual singing and harmonies while Fearne channels mid-period Kraftwerk) and the sheer force of their arrogance and honesty – arguably their USP to begin with – remains intact, eliminating any lingering concerns that they may stop living up to their perpetual hype. Iggy Pop says they are ‘undoubtedly, absolutely, definitely the world’s greatest rock n roll band,’ but they haven’t let that go to their heads.