Fat White Family – Serfs Up!

Fat-White-FamilyI’ve never written an album review on the Blue Jam site before. I am now writing for Louder Than War where I cover live shows and albums, however, I missed an opportunity to write about the new Fat White Family LP yet still have a burning desire to pitch my thoughts on the group, so I will.

I owe a lot to the Fat White Family for being the solid bedrock of modern music. A few years ago I heard Iggy Pop play both Whitest Boy on The Beach and Tarantula Deadly Cargo by Sleaford Mods, and my cliched teenage opinion about modern music was forever changed. From here I became fascinated with the Trashmouth Records roster and all the groups playing at the Windmill. Therefore when the rumours of an improbable third FWF album were floating around the air, I became sycophantically deluded, waiting day by day for something new. During this period of oblivion, I would fill my time listening avidly to any and every side project, Warmduscher, Insecure Men and The Moonlandingz. Here we are now, with the third album in its week-long infancy, and I can’t find myself agreeing with any review about the group or the album.

Serfs Up! is great, let’s get that out of the way. I love the album, but feel it could have and should have been better. If any other group released this album it would be a masterclass, most of the songs on the album are beautifully arranged, Kim’s Sunsets, Tastes Good With the Money, When I Leave and Bobby’s Boyfriend are stunning, and I can not wait to hear them played live. My issue with the album is the lack of coherence throughout.

Every interview and new article about the group tells the story of how Saul left, Nathan became the main man, and Lias just wanted everyone to get along (and subside the rampant heroin abuse). They’ve mentioned how the album has essentially ended up being 1/3 Saul, 1/3 Nathan and 1/3 Lias. I feel this is where the lack of coherence comes into play. The album at times feels muddled up in its identity. The vast majority of the songs feel like Insecure Men cast-offs and Moonlandingz satire. I almost feel bad for Nathan, as the very small amount of Brian music that can be found, often feels like it would’ve made for a far more interesting, and typically sleazy Fat White Family sound. One example of this is the Brian remix of Feet (Only available on the vinyl single), which in my opinion captures the same level of grittiness as earlier Fat White Family songs while still pursuing this new dancier feel. Another key song that should’ve been featured was Giving It Up For Lent, which can be heard on a compilation of Champzone produced music. My final question as about missing songs is about an unnamed song that was played at last years NOX ORAE festival. If you click on this link and skip to 32:29 seconds, you will hear Lias introduce a ‘song about Gaza’, then followed a menacing synth which sounds very Iggy Pop circa-1977. While this song feels a shakey in this performance, I can’t help but feel a fully produced version would be something to behold. Lias’ gruff and almost spoken-word delivery would feel perfect next to Vagina Dentata or Rock Fishes.

Going back to my miserable teenage days of first hearing Fat White Family being played on 6Music, I was then of the impression that no band will be better than The Velvet Underground or at least capture the same mysticism. However, I feel that Fat White Family are following in a dangerously similar trajectory. Their first lo-fi garage album became an underground hit (not nearly to the same extent, but you get the point), the second album gets darker and arguably more artistically interesting, and then we come to the confused third album. It still has its moments of glory, but to compare to the other two, there is a distinct creative difference. Saul seems to take the arrogant role of Lou Reed, Nathan is the overlooked John Cale, Adam Harmer has the silent presence of Stirling Morrison which leaves Lias as either Doug Yule or Mo Tucker, I’ll leave you to decide which (Though he does look good in a dress).

From looking at the track credits, you get an impression that the album has been overcrowded and perhaps overproduced. I worry that the individual talents and ego of some of those who worked on the album have compromised the overall quality of an album that could’ve been so much more. Again, even though I may be slating it, they’re still one of the best groups of the past decade, and when it comes to opinion, I seem to be in the minority as I emphatically rank Songs For Our Mothers, higher than Champagne Holocaust, and now place Serfs Up! last. It pains me to say this about one of my favourite bands, but I don’t think they should continue. They all have other, well established, musical endeavours, and now it feels as though they’re all vying to be the main man of their Fat White love child. Again Serfs Up! is a brilliant record, I just don’t want to see them follow in those Velvet Underground footsteps and release a Loaded or even worse Squeeze.

– Rhys

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