In 1979, Margaret Thatcher came to power in the U.K after a series of heated disputes between parliament and the (then) powerful British Trade Unions. Thatcher, along with the Conservative Party, waged war on the striking Unions as the West End was beginning to resemble a landfill. The year was nicknamed the “Winter of Discontent,” which is a very British way of saying, “Hey, who’s gonna take out all this goddamn trash?” The Unions lost. The Trash was disposed of. Britain was Great again. For some, of course.
It’s easy to see how an environment like this (or lack thereof) could breed snarling, self- mutilating Punk bands like The Sex Pistols or The Clash. Throughout its history, Britain has seen bloody clashes between the Haves and Have-Nots, and with Brexit rearing its ugly head this past year, it looks like it might once again.
Thank the Queen for Sleaford Mods, the new bards of England’s dirty streets (along with British rapper The Streets). This Nottingham duo consists of vocalist Jason Williamson and beat maker/musician Andrew Fearn. With one masterpiece under their belt, 2015’s Key Markets, The Mods are back with English Tapas — an album more delicious than its paradoxical, culinary pun might suggest.
Sleaford Mods have surveyed their surroundings and found much to disagree with. But they aren’t a couple of arses just wanting to get a rise out of the old wanks; they are literate, owing more to Proletarian dramatist Edward Bond than the fight-the-power with power chord blokes of Punk’s heyday.
It takes about nine songs before Brexit is directly dissed in “Cuddly,” plus organic chicken also gets brought down a peg (it “was shit”) and, for some odd reason, folk singer Leo Sayer. But Williamson isn’t here to just take on old, fogey disco ducks, he’s got a few words for those crusty punks too. Remember, kids: Kill Yr Idols.
On “Just Like We Do,” Williamson spits out judgements on all those who drink too much, clinging to the heydays of their punk identity — a now defunct (and laughable) designation. Hours on the pub bar stool have dulled the knives; the punks have become they’re own worst nightmares. Morons. Potential H-bombs.
When he hits upon something, Williamson can spin a truly poetic stanza. On the album’s best track, “Time Sands,” Williamson croaks “Of cigarettes and trains and plastic and bad brains / and heartbreak lays upon the self of this the new born hell, well.” With his thick Midlands voice, Williamson is like a cement mixer dispensing the mortar that holds his targets in place. His attacks dig deep. Nothing is more scary than a pissed off, but wildly intelligent, street dweller. Ask any government.
And like all great working-class heroes, Williamson holds some of his most putrid bile for his brethren of the lower depths. On “Carlton Touts,” Williamson asks “Why they got tellies in pubs? Keep us munched on second-hand grub,” before labeling these barflies as “fat bastards.” There’s some tough love for ya.
All Martyrs understand that those they crusade for will eventually turn on them. Jesus, Jimmy Carter, Vanilla Ice — it’s the same story over and over again. Williamson has felt the heat for criticizing those he loves most. On “Snout,” he lets loose: “How dare I slam the uniform of the working class / Condemn me please, you wanker, to life inside a working glass.” He sees his countrymen willing to salute a flag that’s not worth their blood, sweat and tears.
Sleaford Mods rely on similar musical tones throughout — a basic backbeat, some bass or keyboard noodling — but what butters their bread are the words and wisdom that Williamson displays. They are the band Britain needs at this moment in time. History tells us, sooner or later, that the trash gets picked up, but one highly doubts the Mods will run out of grievances, or that we’ll see Williamson on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
Mike Postalakis (@mikepostalakis) is a writer, director and comedian living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have a Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or HBO Go account. Instead, he spends his extra money at the Gap.