The front sleeve of Sleaford Mods first ‘proper’ album Austerity Dogs showed the pair standing next to a row of charity clothing banks; it’s a black and white image taken at a nondescript drabness on the edge of town. Jason Williamson is wearing an overcoat and looks a little displeased. His bearded, baseball capped colleague is new recruit Andrew Fearn, hands in pockets, looking unfazed. We will get used to this set up.
Austerity Dogs arrived in 2013, Its contents were venomous, sarcastic, heavily expletive strewn and frequently hilarious. A collection of splenetic rants delivered by Williamson in a broad East Midlands accent, his vitriol set to the Fearn's minimal backing of loops and samples, an ideal accompaniment to an unflinching assortment of tales from inside a place that was once patronizingly described as 'Broken Britain'.
Since then, the agitated world view of the Jason Williamson has been a unique voice, recounting stories of minimum wage jobs, drugs, faceless towns, middle aged boredom, rubbish DJs, sneers at faded musicians, and anything else he cares to set his derisive glare on. Sleaford Mods would be described as political, but there is little chance of Williamson making it onto the ‘popular songwriter’ chair on Question Time. There is no specific agenda, there is no didactic message. Instead, the songs are vicious denouncements of the ridiculous, the mundane and the banal minutiae of contemporary British life. This is the place where English Tapas is being served.
Williamson's eye for small details is evident in the album's title which was inspired by a pub menu that advertised a portion of chips, a scotch egg, a mini pork pie and pickle as English Tapas. It feels like a symbol for the things Williamson detests "...it's comedy, it's make-do, it's ignorant and above all its shit" he has said. It feels like a metaphor for post-Brexit Britain. The general malaise of the country is angrily reflected in the pounding Carlton Touts where the chorus sarcastically observes ...The future is a flag pissed on and a king sized bag of Quavers. The fallout from Brexit is despairingly summed up by Williamson with What the fuck is happening? Bring back the neolibs, I'm sorry, I didn't fuckin' mean to vote for anarchy.
Sleaford Mods are no longer a cult concern. They are interviewed by broadsheet newspapers and the Channel 4 news, and their records now get played on 6 Music. Williamson ruminates on those that begrudge them their notoriety on the belligerent Just Like We Do: 'It’s funny how fucking England hates any success…’ he exclaims before admitting ‘I know dickhead, I used to be one of them’ It's also one of a handful of tracks on English Tapas that displays Andrew Fearn's fondness for tight (even funky!) bass driven rhythms.
English Tapas shows Sleaford Mods expanding their sound without ever diluting it. The first single B.H.S is a perfect example, it’s simple and direct with a pithy chorus ‘…we’re going down like B.H.S, whilst the able bodied vultures monitor and pick at us….’ as they reflect on how the department store collapsed and how disgraced former owner Philip Green fled, leaving a huge hole in the pension fund. It’s also another example of how Williamson has moved from quick-fire ranting to ‘Lydon-esque’ singing. However, the most startling moment of singing comes with the brooding album closer ‘I feel so wrong’ - his most conventional vocal to date.
Four years on from Austerity Dogs, English Tapas shows that the formula that made Sleaford Mods so breathtakingly unique is still, refreshingly, intact. The genius of the band can even be seen on the album sleeve, seemingly hastily Photoshopped... the black and white image shows that the man in the overcoat continues to look displeased at all that he sees, his baseball capped colleague still looking on unfazed.