You’ll know in 30 seconds if you’ll like Divide and Exit. At its heart, this is a punk record. There’s no artifice here. Most of Andrew Fearn’s instrumentals are a single bass riff and drum machine pattern repeated for the entire length of the song. They do their part, setting the tempo and general tone of the songs. But like a lot of punk, the real attraction here is Sleaford Mods’ charismatic frontman, Jason Williamson. Somewhere between a song and a rant, the urgency and drive behind his condemnations of British class structure and cultural banality carry on the spirit of punk. Williamson can switch from upset to witty to sardonic from line to line, expressing a working class discontent that has fueled British punk for decades. You aren’t here for carefully selected timbres or brilliant guitar riffs. You’re hear for the urgent delivery of working class grievances, the venting over feeling hopeless about the future. Also lots of references to poo.
Divide and Exit works with a small slate of musical ideas. This obviously calls up punk, where the speed and simplicity only increased the urgency we feel in a punk song. There’s a definite disconnect from punk in sound — we’re working with a drum machine here, and both the drums and bass have a boxy, manufactured feel to it. But punk is more an ethos than a genre anyway, and the instrumentals capture the rawness of punk. One of the few studio tricks Sleaford Mods use is vocal doubling. There are two major uses for it. Songs like “Liveable Shit” use the doubling to draw attention to important lines. Sleaford Mods also use vocal doubling to delineate hooks from verses, like in “Tweet Tweet Tweet,” and add the emphasis we expect out of a hook.
The instrumentals are simply backdrops though, used to complement Williamson, his lyrics and his delivery. Williamson knows how to write vocal parts that complement his ideas. The ferocious pace of “From Rags to Richards” do as much to turn it into a pisstake as the lyrics themselves, and the slower pacing of “Tied Up In Nottz” give it the anthemic quality Sleaford Mods want. But it’s Williamson’s depiction of working class England that makes me come back to this album. The sense of hopelessness tied to drinking in “Tied Up In Nottz, ” the sense of ennui towards gentrifying Millennials of “You’re Brave,” the discontent towards business culture of “Middle Man” all feels so real. You can feel the condemnation Williamson gets because of his working class accent and lifestyle and the resentment that builds. You get the frustration that comes from how deeply embedded class is in England, the inability to be met with anything than the caricature of what a working class Englishman is. Williamson’s anger is a mid-40s anger, an anger of having worked without receiving what he’s justly due. I think that’s why I find Divide and Exit more compelling than most other modern punk. Williamson writes songs out of a real disillusionment and frustration borne out of his experiences, rather than some music industry abstraction of “teenage rebellion.” Sleaford Mods is real.
Divide and Exit is a very English album, and certainly a lot of the references are lost on me. I’m familiar with Pete Tong, Tesco, and Weetabix, etc. so I’m not completely clueless, but certainly some of the references are beyond me. But the frustration and condemnation throughout Divide and Exit is familiar, and that’s the important part to getting Sleaford Mods. I can certainly see how someone would see this album as a jaded man in midlife crisis ranting and raving. But it’s something that I certainly understand and feel sympathetic towards. To me, these aren’t rants, but a pointed commentary on class structure from someone who has lived it. It’s a painfully accurate representation of working class life, from the accents and swearing to the experiences and opinions Williamson has. Sleaford Mods know who they are and what they want to say. It’s on you to receive it.
God Weetabix look awful.