The first album released on Sleaford Mods' own Extreme Eating label, Eton Alive's title is as pithy a summation of how the upper class uses and abuses the 99% as one would expect from the duo. Taken together with their label's moniker, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn's fifth album establishes an eat-or-be-eaten world: Bellies bulge on "Big Burt," and arachnids hide in street food as synths gulp and wobble on "Kebab Spider." In some ways, Eton Alive feels like the flip side to English Tapas, another Sleaford Mods album with a consumption-oriented title. Where Tapas' relentless grind reflected the numbing impact of austerity measures, on Eton Alive the music is a little less stark, even if the issues Fearn and Williamson tackle are just as grim. This time, the duo takes a more melodic, layered approach that heightens the mood of each song. A kazoo solo adds an extra flick of irreverence to "OBCT" as Williamson rails against fakes, and the uneasiness in his singing is mirrored by icy keyboards on "When You Come Up to Me," which sets a mood that falls somewhere between confrontation and regret. Songs like this make Eton Alive the duo's most emotionally varied and complex work in some time. It's also some of their most energetic music since the Divide and Exit days: "Flipside" is as fiery as anything off that album (and lyrics like "Graham Coxon looks like a left-wing Boris Johnson" will scratch the itch of anyone who misses Williamson's scathing pop culture takedowns). "Subtraction" is another standout, setting a typically cynical character sketch ("I'm a consumer/I'm the systems rocket/and I like my launcher") to a frantic yet detached beat. For every combative moment like these, there's one dealing with the emotional fallout of Eton Alive's harsh realities. As the album comes to a close, Sleaford Mods describe stifled feelings in artfully stunted ways. When Williamson sings, "I don't want to fit the page of my negative script," it's more poignant than a more flowery lyric would've been; similarly, on "Discourse" he sounds just as worked up about the inability to truly connect with someone as he does about capitalism, poseurs, or celebrities. Though it's more than a little contrary that their first album on their own label is more melodic and emotionally immediate than their work for Rough Trade, it's one of many moves on Eton Alive that are pure Sleaford Mods.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares