The 10 Best Sleaford Mods Songs
In the early months of 2014, a viral video transformed an obscure act into indie icons seemingly overnight — and no, I’m not talking about Future Islands on Letterman. In April of that year, on Record Store Day, Sleaford Mods played an in-store — make that an out-store — on the sidewalk at London’s Rough Trade West, and for many of us outside the Isles, a widely circulated clip of them performing “Fizzy” was our first glimpse of the Nottingham duo in action. Or, rather, in inaction: If not for the visible microphone stands, you’d think frontman Jason Williamson was in the middle of a pub argument that spilled out onto the street rather than a concert. And with his gear out of the frame, it was hard to tell if his producer/partner Andrew Fearn was actually part of the band or just a curious bystander.
You’d be forgiven for wondering if the whole thing was an absurdist performance-art prank. “I fuckin’ hate rockers/ Fuck your rocker shit,” Wiliamson screamed at one point, explicitly stating what had already been made obvious by the duo’s anti-pop verbal splatter and determined lack of ceremony. (The fact these guys were clearly no longer in their 20s only seemed to amplify their subversive intent — after all, how often are the members of Britain’s hottest new band actually old enough to be the parents of Britain’s other hot new bands?) But such thoughts dissipated once you got sucked into the sheer physical intensity and labyrinthine lyrical density of Williamson’s rapid-fire rhetoric. As that video of “Fizzy” demonstrated, Sleaford Mods may bombard you with crude sounds and cruder words, but they’re also downright mesmerizing to behold.
It’s still somewhat surreal that those two blokes raising a ruckus on that Ladbroke Grove sidewalk nine years ago now have four UK top 20 albums under their belts; a headlining date at London’s 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace on the books; and enough celebrity clout to convince Robbie Williams to get naked. What’s even more amazing is they’ve achieved all that without redefining who they are — they haven’t added a backing band, roped in outside producers to level up, or invested in LEDs and pyro for their stage show. What you see at a Sleaford Mods concert today is pretty much what that crowd outside Rough Trade saw in 2014 (though Fearn has since added the role of “resident Bez” to his job description).
If, as Chuck D famously professed, rap is the Black CNN, then Sleaford Mods remain the working-class BBC, with songs that resemble a non-stop newsticker scrolled through on a burner phone purchased at a corner off-license. For much of the past decade, they’ve served as a necessary reminder that right-wing trolls shouldn’t have a monopoly on weaponizing outrage, but their appeal goes beyond telling silver-spooned politicians, “swivel servants,” and racist barflys to fuck off. Williamson may routinely get compared to Mark E. Smith, but he’s really more like a lagered-up Larry David, expressing untold contempt for his fellow man while interrogating his own behaviors with self-lacerating wit.
With their latest, UK Grim (the duo’s seventh proper album together), Sleaford Mods continue to squat in their own unique space in the contemporary British landscape, as a group that draws inspiration from rap without appropriating it, and that thoroughly embodies the experimental, deconstructive spirit of post-punk without trying to pretend it’s still 1981. But if every Sleaford Mods song is still built from the same rants ‘n’ rhythms foundation, their formula continues to yield unexpected results. Consider this list of the Mods’ top 10 ragers a masterclass in how to evolve without changing.
"Glimpses" (from Spare Ribs, 2021)
The name Sleaford Mods functions as both a tribute and a slag — an acknowledgement of Williamson’s formative phase as a Paul Weller devotee, and a rebuke of mod’s ossification into a retro garage-soul subgenre that tends to forget the word is supposed to be shorthand for “modernist.” But if there’s a Sleaford Mods song that would could be retroactively added to the Jam canon, it’s “Glimpses,” whose buoyant bassline, “oh yeah” refrains, and cheerfully dystopian imagery (“We caretake the warm milkshake of nowhere”) add up to an uncharacteristically breezy scooter-cruise of a tune. (That said, it’d be hard to imagine Weller following Williamson’s lead by opening a song with a lip-flapping blurt.)
"So Trendy" (from UK Grim, 2023)
While Sleaford Mods songs generally adhere to a strict diet of Williamson’s voice and Fearn’s loops, the duo has worked new shades and textures into their work through guest features. These cameos tend to be solicited from their immediate peer group — like fellow sing-speaker Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning, who lends her eerily calm intonation to UK Grim’s synth-buzzed lead single “Force 10 Navarone.” But album highlight “So Trendy” constitutes the first genuine WTF collaboration in the entire Sleaford Mods catalog: It features Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, whose Sunset Strip-spawned art-metal epics couldn’t be further removed from Sleaford Mods, both geographically and aesthetically. And yet the union works like a charm, largely because Farrell fully submits himself to the Mods’ minimalist dimensions. Atop demonic surf drones, Farrell gamely adopts a mock British accent (which, as a former UK post-punk acolyte, he comes by honestly) while coaxing Williamson into a playful piss-take on fashion-junkie influencers and men flying with jetpacks. By letting Farrell’s whimsical influence seep into their brutalist world, the Sleaford Mods, for the first time ever, truly sound like jolly fuckers.
"Tarantula Deadly Cargo" (from Key Markets, 2015)
Many of the early Sleaford Mods tracks bowl you over with their sheer velocity and vigor, but by their third proper album, Key Markets, the duo was starting to explore different moods and slower tempos. “Tarantula Deadly Cargo” swaps out Williamson’s usual motormouthed color commentary in favor of a darkly melodic mantra, while the rhythm track is given over to a slow-stalking line bassline that evokes Pere Ubu’s apocalyptic proto-punk classic “Final Solution.” All creeping tension with no release, “Tarantula Deadly Cargo” only feels slightly less unnerving after you find out it was partially inspired by their road manager hotboxing the tour bus with his farts.
"Carlton Touts" (from English Tapas, 2017)
If we’re to mark a turning point in Sleaford Mods’ discography, it’s 2017’s English Tapas, where controlled melodic flows and catchy choruses became more the rules than the exceptions — and you can hear this evolution happen in real time on “Carlton Touts.” Out of the gate, the track is classic Mods: A battering-ram bass groove clears a path for another one of Williamson’s expedient carpet-bomb assaults on pub culture, blind nationalism, privilege, and underclass suppression. But he catches his breath to deliver the song’s surprisingly eloquent chorus, which shrewdly relocates one of Britain’s grandest monuments to his native Nottingham and flips it into a symbol of the region’s decline. “Carlton touts/ The Angel of the Midlands has flown away/ Probably south/ You can’t blame her,” Williamson sings in a crestfallen croon, presenting a diagnosis of life in the East that’s so grave, even the local landmarks want to leave.
"Kebab Spider" (from Eton Alive, 2019)
From one vantage, the music of Sleaford Mods most readily conjures the hectoring invectives of vintage post-punk and the primitive beats of early hip-hop; from another, however, the duo seem more like modern torchbearers for the ’90s rave-rock crossover. The group’s extracurricular activities have included collaborations with electronica trailblazers like Prodigy and Orbital, and, on for this standout from 2019’s Eton Alive, they came up with an anti-poseur anthem that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place sandwiched between Underworld and Lo-Fidelity All-Stars at the big-beat revival night at your local student disco. Powered by acid-dipped synths, a rolling bassline, and a frisky drum machine, “Kebab Spider” is so fun and funky, it can even get a tightly wound stress ball like Williamson himself to loosen his shoulders.
"Jobseeker" (single, 2013)
There’s an alternate universe where Sleaford Mods didn’t get more popular with each new record and instead peaked with a medium-level viral hit that would join the likes of Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip’s “Thou Shalt Always Kill” and Alexei Sayle’s ’80s singles in the pantheon of danceable British spoken-word novelties before sliding out of view. And in that alternate universe, the Sleaford Mods would be famous for “Jobseeker,” the sort of profane yet universal missive that even your uncle who hasn’t bought a new record since Brothers In Arms would enthusiastically share with an LOL emoji on Facebook.
Here, Williamson is transformed from street-punk provocateur to one of the great comic actors of our time, as he re-enacts the drudgery of interviewing for jobs nobody wants just to appease the benefits officer who approves the social-assistance cheques used to pay for the booze and drugs you need to make it through another wank-filled day on the dole. Though Sleaford Mods have earned a rep as the house band for the current era of Tory austerity, “Jobseeker” actually dates back to the project’s earliest incarnation in 2007 — when Labour still held the nation’s purse strings — and was re-recorded in 2013 after Fearn came onboard. That extended origin story simply reaffirms the song’s evergreen value as a humorous depiction of a humiliating experience that millions of Britons of all stripes have endured, no matter who’s in charge of the country.
"Tied Up In Nottz" (from Divide And Exit, 2014)
If you were to ask Siri to play you some Sleaford Mods, this is the first song she should cue up. It’s an ideal, succinct introduction to what this group is all about and, for newcomers, the most effective litmus test for deciding on whether to explore further. For a song that addresses the listener as “you koont,” “Tied Up In Nottz” is an oddly inviting track: As Fearn sets the wheel in motion with a peppy “We Got The Beat“-style bassline, Williamson fires off some of his funniest barstool non-sequitirs about traumatizing bathroom visits (“Release the stench of shit grub like a giant toilet Kraken!”), the interchangeable nature of ’80s rock (“It’s ‘The Final Countdown’ by fookin’ Journey!”), and unappetiizng breakfast-cereal selections (“Weetabix, England, fuckin’ shredded wheat, Kellogg’s cunts!”). Written during a particularly piss-stenched early tour of Germany, “Tied Up In Nottz” suggests that the only thing more miserable than being a jobseeker in modern-day Britian is trying to survive on a DIY band’s budget outside it.
"Nudge It" (from Spare Ribs, 2021)
In 2021, Spare Ribs became the first Sleaford Mods album to gatecrash the top five on the UK album charts, thanks in large part to its lead single “Mork n Mindy,” a bumpin’, club-ready communion with alt-pop dynamo Billy Nomates that swiftly became one of the duo’s top-streamed tracks. But the album’s other marquee collaboration constituted an even greater leap forward for the group. Featuring a guest brat-rap from Amy Taylor (of Aussie punks Amyl And The Sniffers) along with Williamson’s most Lydon-esque performance to date, “Nudge It” would rank among Sleaford Mods’ most insolent tracks if the production wasn’t so artfully layered and the execution so cool and sophisticated. Pitting the incessant pinging piano of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” against bursts of Frippian Scary Monsters guitar noise atop a driving backbeat that sounds like a slowed-down “Song 2,” “Nudge It” snowballs into the sort of controlled chaos you hear on classic LCD Soundsystem songs — a testament to the Mods’ growing ability to create festival-sized tunes with pawn-shop tools.
"Tweet Tweet Tweet" (from Divide And Exit, 2014)
In the middle of writing this article, I asked Chat GBT to write me a Sleaford Mods song, just for shits and gigs. The result was perfect — that is, perfect for a machine that clearly scraped the internet for all the most-used buzzwords attached to this band (“working class,” “politics,” “shouting”) but had never actually listened to them, so it spat out something that resembles an Oi! band writing a Saturday-morning cartoon theme about itself.
That said, if a more advanced AI were to figure out how to package all of Sleaford Mods’ predominant themes into a single perfect song, we could very well get something like “Tweet Tweet Tweet,” a blazing manifesto that ticks off all the most pressing topical boxes: Britain’s ever-tightening embrace of right-wing extremism, growing civil unrest, and the social-media addicted masses oblivious to it all. But “Tweet Tweet Tweet” also highlights what makes Fearn such a deceptively savvy producer: while that rumbling, circle-pit-sparking bassline is enough to set the white-knuckled pace, he adds an ominous, omnipresent low-end harmony to expedite the song’s doomy death-spiral. That title may nod toward the Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat,” but the Mods forego the cheeky blasphemy of ’77 punk to show us what a life with no future really looks like.
"B.H.S." (from English Tapas, 2017)
The story of Sleaford Mods to date has been an ongoing discovery of how to articulate their rage in a manner that serves to elucidate the message rather than simply berate the listener, while still retaining their uncompromising essence. They struck that perfect balance on the flagship track from 2017’s English Tapas, a song that bears the lo-tech electro-punk edge of the Mods’ buzz-building early singles but dispenses the poison with the steady, unhurried hand of an executioner’s lethal injection.
“B.H.S.” is named for British Home Stores, the longstanding UK department-store giant that shuttered its 163 stores in 2016, putting 11,000 people out of work, and screwing even more former employees out of their pensions, all while its billionaire former owner literally sailed off into the sunset. But you don’t need to be a regular reader of the Financial Times to feel the full soul-crushing weight of a line like “We’re going down like B.H.S./ While the able-bodied vultures monitor and pick at us.” And therein lies the beauty of Sleaford Mods’ ugly truths: Even when you have no idea what they’re going on about, you understand exactly what they’re saying.
Stream the songs in playlist form: