With their fans including A-lister, Lady Gaga, working on side projects with artists including Sean Lennon, their single, Whitest Boy on the Beach, featuring on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack, as well as laying into other bands, particularly, Idles, have contributed to Fat White Family being a part of our lives. Whether one interprets the antics of Fat White Family as going beyond the realms of political correctness; many feel they deserve to be credited as galvanised risk seekers in a landscape of perceived increased mediocrity. After a three year hiatus, which has resulted in changes to the Fat White Family line up; the Peckham formed band return with their third risk-seeking album, Serfs Up!
Serfs Up! opens with first single, Feet, has a dark, nefarious, death disco unnerving feel to it. The industrial drumming has a militia, mass marching, powerful presence to it, demanding nervous, undistracted attention. The climax, with raw distorted guitar noises, perfectly ends Feet. Processed beats with synth keys introduce the next track, I Believe in Something Better, which develops with pounding drums with a powerful organ backdrop to the chorus. The mixing and experimentation of each of the different sounds and noises produces upbeat synchronicity.
Serfs Up! changes direction again with the curiously titled, Vagina Dentata. As this song opens with the piano, Elton Johns’ Bennie and the Jets will instantly come to mind alongside jazz influences. Kim’s Sunsets then opens with a distinctive bassline amidst a 2 tone, mellow, ska vibe. The ska introduction eventually gives way to synthesiser experimentation which then ends with mysteriously naughty pantomime inspired piano riffs.
Fringe Runner is interesting for several reasons. It has an insane funk and RnB vibe with additional early nineties rave noises. There is also a healthy dose of more naturally sounding guitar riffs here too, which are more present here than on previous tracks. The fusion of unconnected elements via experimentation continues to pay off. The detours continue with Oh Sebastian, the most sanguine and possibly the most beautiful and organic track with string section arrangements.
The successful experimentation begins to unravel with Tastes Good with the Money, the latest song Fat White Family have promoted with a music video. The purposeless open chanting of what sounds like baritone monk’s ends, making way for a muddled slow, outmoded and cringing glam rock invasion. You also realise what else Serfs Up! has been consistently missing: Saoudis’ and Adamczewskis’ vocals are consistently monotone. On their previous LP efforts, Fat White Family injected more aggression, passion and most importantly, range into their vocal outputs. As for Tastes Good with the Money, even the saxophone distortions fails to rescue it.
Rock Fishes partially rescues Serfs Up!, however, it is similar to Oh Sebastian. The arabesque strings are a welcome addition and it ends with an impressive crescendo: a literal explosion. Things initially continue to improve with, When I Leave, owing to the Latin guitar riffs. Fat White Family add a repetitive 8-bit video game set of chords which eventually wears out its welcome and only continues to be tolerated as the song closes with continuous, curious and subtle chanting of “subajubjub”, as featured in Summer Nights, from the Grease soundtrack. Whilst the musical direction changes again for playout track, Bobby’s Boyfriend, the best is not left for last. The repetitive diluted vocal droning of “Bobby’s Boyfriend is a prostitute” to a monotonous beat quickly becomes irksome.
Unfortunately, from what starts out as an enthusiastic embrace of the experimentation of a risk-taking band, ends on a disappointing note. One must admire and applaud Fat White Family for their courage and bravery, which on several tracks, particularly on the first half of Serfs Up!, works well. Sadly, the impact on the listener when the experimentation fails and misses the mark is significant. The songs which don’t work (as opposed to the songs that do) are what is taken away after the musical journey of Serfs Up!