In the midst of a pandemic — and ample political and social turmoil — who better to release new music than Nottingham electro-punks the Sleaford Mods? Spare Ribs is out on January 15th, but you can watch the video for “Mork N Mindy” — directed by Ben Wheatley (Rebecca) — right now.
Although a few songs on the record — including “Mork N Mindy” — were written pre-Covid-19, frontman Jason Williamson counts the pandemic and lockdown as inspiration for most of the tracks. “Nobody knew what was going to go on,” he tells Rolling Stone of when the virus hit the U.K. “It was quite clear that the entertainment sector was going to be halted, obviously, because people can’t get together to go and watch bands live, and that’s where our income is, live music, gigging, touring; it’s where we make our money. So, it was concerning as to how that would pan out. But apart from that, generally, we were just really frustrated with the politics of everything, and obviously the domestic situation of being in the house all the time. You had to get your head around that.”
The band worked their way through these feelings of confusion and despair with songs like “Out There” (which deals with the sci-fi nature of the pandemic), “Top Room” (about being stuck at home with your family and your thoughts), and “Short Cummings” (deriding Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson). Spare Ribs — the follow-up to 2019’s Eton Alive — was recorded at JT Soar Studios in Nottingham and marks the band’s 11th studio album.
The Mods have been bringing their blend of beats and acerbic spoken word-esque lyrics to fans since 2007, breaking out with their Rough Trade debut, English Tapas, in 2017. They released Eton Alive via their own label, Extreme Eating Records, returning to Rough Trade for the compilation All That Glue in 2020 — and, now, Spare Ribs.
Williamson spoke with Rolling Stone after performing “Mork N Mindy” on Late Night With Seth Meyers on Thursday, breaking down each track on the upcoming album.
“A New Brick”
“A New Brick” was just like an introduction to the vibe of the album, the energy of the album, the feeling of the album, which is largely a political take on what you see around you. It’s almost a little bit Pink Floyd — it’s “just another brick in the wall.” “A New Brick” is another gate-keeping, right-wing politician throwing off policies that are grossly unfair for the majority of people in this country. … Everything is closed down. [There’s] mass unemployment; the High Street has been completely degraded. So, it’s all of those things rolled into that song. There’s a lot of symbolism and imagery, sort of surrealism.
It talks about Dominic Cummings, but like most of our songs, it takes a political idea and brings in the here and now. There’s musings about the reality facing the authority. Obviously, the chorus talks about Cummings and his plan to rearrange the administrative state of how things are done in the country to reduce and modify things. It talks about how he’s going to ejaculate his dream, so to speak, and it will eventually all come crashing down. It won’t work. Of course, it won’t work. He’s an elitist; he’s completely remote from the idea of financial struggle, from the idea of anything on the experience of a working-class person. This is not going to be healthy for the majority of people. In the end, it will aid and abet the more comfortable classes; the upper class.
“Nudge It,” Featuring Amy Taylor
“Nudge It” is basically about my ongoing hatred for what I consider to be people posturing with certain social imagery, where their background isn’t necessarily connected to that social imagery. And you see a lot of class tourism with lots of acts. It is not just that. It’s with actors, it’s with everything. It’s a real thing and it’s been going on since the dawn of time, but it’s just another way of me conveying my distaste for it, and how I view a lot of these people that are just posing. They tend to stick together or they tend to… there’s a lot of solidarity between them because it’s almost like they won’t get found out if they’re in groups. There’s a lot of comradeship with a lot of these people. You find them kind of name-checking each other in interviews and stuff. I just think my cynical point of view on this is that they’re just hiding underneath each other so nobody really finds out that they’re up to the shit.
“Elocution” is the refusal to network, to go completely with the communicative lines of bettering yourself in the industry, of being available to comment, of being part of the body of people that just conform to the usual regulations. Again, it’s an attack on class tourism because that’s a part of that. But also, I don’t know, it’s almost like an attack against the middle classes who seem to be dominating the industry still, which there’s nothing wrong with that. And to be honest, me in my middle-class surroundings, it would very much leave a bitter taste in somebody’s mouth who was sat in a council flat in the middle of an estate watching this on their laptops. But what can I say?
“Out There” is basically a kind of the tale of the lockdown. Going to the shops for the first time with masks, and it all being very tense. It’s kind of like something out of a film, isn’t it? Like a disaster movie or something. You kind of half expect Tom Cruise to be running around the corner at any point. Also, you could see why the conservative party had a landslide victory in this country in the election — people were blaming foreigners for the coronavirus. Although it obviously came from a foreign country, I think it’s a bit deeper than that, obviously. But there seemed to be this view that immigrants were bringing it over, which is just stupid. So, it’s all that observational imagery that goes with it. And again, an attack on the government, and this is a recurring theme throughout the album.
“Glimpses” was written in New Zealand on our Australia and New Zealand tour. That talks about the illusion of possessions, of consumerism. I mean, it’s an obvious subject, but if an actor receives five pairs of trainers for a photo shoot, it just completely devalues the idea of pair that you’ve bought for 300 quid. We all know that possessions, that material consumerism, it’s just stupid, but we all do it. We all enjoy doing it. I love it. But if you’re nailing it down, if you narrow it down, it’s quite pathetic, really, isn’t it?
But the song also charts the early period of lockdown. The kind of illusion of control when the pandemic first kicked in, the idea of order, of capitalism as a normal daily occurrence seemed to fade away almost. It wasn’t like a new thing that kicked in, but everything just stood still. It was almost like it was a no person’s land; a completely fresh palette, so to speak. So, it’s sort of like glimpses into a better, another life; a life we don’t know.
“Top Room” talks about the daily ordeals of dealing with lockdown at home, having everybody at home every day. Worrying about the kids, schools closed, kids are just sat there every day trying to do stuff. It got really stressful. And then it goes on to sort of looking into yourself, so I started to question myself, everything about myself, the way I talk, my attitude toward people, just everything. And some of it’s absurd as well, it’s just imagery that I’m playing around with. Before, we played with the idea of rap but I really wanted to try and nail that, and I think we kind of did with this song.
“Mork N Mindy,” Featuring Bill Nomates
“Mork and Mindy” was written in January. That basically talks about my childhood and how colorless it tended to be. I wanted to try and bring that across in a song. But at the same time, I loved it, but at the same time, I hated it. I wanted to try to bring all of that across. And I think we really nailed it with that song. I’m really proud of that song. We had Billy Nomates to do a guest spot on it and she really transformed it, to be honest. She is the rightful star on that song, I think. And it’s the first time we’ve collaborated with someone.
“Spare Ribs.” Again, a kind of observational song about the here and now, about the homeless community that lived around the streets just outside our front door. We know a few of them, and they sleep in churches or wherever, just taking drugs, and there’s not a lot else to do, which is just really, really bleak. And you try to help as much as you can because it’s a revolving cycle that they can’t get out of. So, it’s kind of got a lot of that in it. Just observational stuff. What’s his name? Elon Musk. He was kind of prattling about Twitter a lot a few months ago, just making people really sick. So, Tesla is kind of there in the backdrop, isn’t it? Around here, you can see some of the dads going out and buying the cars and sort of sat there talking about it on the side of the street with their friends. And you imagine that’s how it was back in the [day] with Henry Ford. So, yeah, it struck me as a really weird parallel.
“All Day Ticket”
“All Day Ticket” is again… Well, it’s a little bit of a personal song, “All Day Ticket.” It’s a little bit of a goodbye, but we wanted to do it in the most positive way we could and not be… I don’t really want to go into it too much. I didn’t want to address the song so obvious, so people would know what we’re going on about, so I kind of disguised it a little bit.
“Thick Ear” is just a bit of a surreal, absurd song. I just wanted to use a bit of, “I’ll give you a thick ear.” My dad used to say that all the time — mess around like he’d give you a thick ear, you know, a smack around the ear or whatever. Which obviously you just don’t do these days, but back then it was completely acceptable. Again, just observational about the landscape, about the slow… How do you put it? The kind of scenery of destruction that is all around; unfinished buildings, sort of half-demolished buildings, run-down warehouses, on their asses, businesses going under. I wanted to put all that kind of imagery in it, and these are all the things you see when you’re going down the motorway in the car. Or when you’re just driving around when you’re touring a lot. You see a lot of it. I wanted to put kind of an industrial feeling to it, perhaps.
“I Don’t Rate You”
“I Don’t Rate You” is just me slagging someone off again, which we kind of enjoy doing. Or rather I do. [My bandmate] Andrew [Fearn] just lets me get on with it.
I just went into myself and I started thinking about my childhood a lot, as we’ve already spoken about. And it made me more inclined to talk about stuff like that; paint a picture of what my early life as a little boy was. I had an issue with my back when I was a child. I’ve got spina bifida basically, but it’s a variation of spina bifida that I’ve been fortunate to live with successfully and I can walk. I had a massive state-of-the-art operation done on my back when I was 12 by a spinal surgeon in the U.K. that was at the top of his profession, fortunately for me. And he cured me, and without him, I would have been paralyzed from around the age of probably 12, 13. But because of him, I can walk and I’ve been able to walk for most of my life.
I injured my back over the summer because of too much exercising in the backyard. So, it just made me think more about being 12 and my childhood experiences there. I tried to paint a picture of my life on an estate in a small town in the early Seventies.