Sleaford Mods choosing Stewart Lee to open a handful of their shows makes immediate sense. Not only do the pair align with their aims but the latter’s work with Asian Dub Foundation has seen the mollified masses understand the work he provides on stage. Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn, the pair of pontificating Mods, mark UK GRIM with reasonable anger, as many have in the last two years. Mapping out the greyed and miserable land of the UK with the post-punk expectations that saw the likes of Yard Act, Comfort and Benefits strike a chord with the public, so too do Sleaford Mods. All of them elbowing their way through for a bite of the listener’s ear, and where UK GRIM simmers with anxieties and punches up and around them, returning listeners may feel short-changed.
But for those newcomers, the immediate grasp of UK Grim may come from the imagery. Cold War Steve is enlisted on the title track, utilising brutalist imagery but failing to expand on what UK Grim means. The UK is grim. Expand on that, and build from it. Unhinged and unclipped references build and build with a thumping electronic underscore. Force 10 From Navarone continues that heavy trip dub, the infrequent piano notes and the barely utilised Florence Shaw collaboration makes for an underwhelming piece. UK GRIM struggles with underwhelming moments consistently. It neither has the powerful anger of Benefits’ debut, Nails, nor the lyrical prowess of Yard Act’s debut, The Overload. If Sleaford Mods wanted themselves to sound like the mildly drunk 50-somethings found in the pub rattling on about the state of the gaff in-between rants about the football, Tilldipper and beyond achieve just that.
On the Ground fixes that perception, though. A B-Side ready Public Image Ltd. track as Williamson swears on through a John Lydon-soaked bitterness. Right Wing Beast offers further hope, the implementation of social media embarrassment and wondering how best to deal with those former friends from far-off memories sharing propaganda or royalist nonsense on their timelines. Understanding that strange feeling, the disconnect between two people as they begin to perceive the world differently, is a bright spot for UK GRIM and it is a shame it does not last long. From Don to Pit 2 Pit is a trendy acceptance of culture in the UK, or at least those are the shuffling of the cards Sleaford Mods appropriate. A bit of light at the end of the tunnel comes through on the catchy hangover beat of Apart from You and it is all undone by Tory Kong.
Say what you will about Sleaford Mods, they have stuck to what initially formed them well. Their minimal wave style and Wu-Tang Clan, mod culture blend are still interesting to poke your head into. Spoken word bits and pieces but they seem to be running on fumes, inhaling them, and putting them back onto their records. Most people are flung around and thrown about by powers that be and their decisions. Few can make sense of it. Flailing their arms at what they perceive as popular and submissive acts to the big wigs in charge, the Fred Perry-wearing, pork-eating bigots, is a lazy encapsulation that drags UK Grim down. “You’re like the edgy version of something shit,” as Dlwhy notes. Welcome to UK Grim.