When Fat White Family first turned up, there was no competition whatsoever for what they were doing. Turning up to gigs playing a unique blend of punk and psych music while necking super strength lager and smearing chocolate spread all over their semi-naked bodies, they were more a ramshackle force of nature than a band in the traditional sense.
Three albums in, the shock factor has worn off somewhat, and loud music from topless South Londoners is all the rage. So how do the accidental godfathers of a whole scene deal with their new status as returning legends? By calming down, taking stock and buying some pan pipes. Yes, really.
New album ‘Serfs Up!’ is a radical departure from the sound the band are known for, and while there’s still a bubbling undercurrent of discord and chaos, the edges feel very much smoothed over, and the band themselves seem to be taking it all a bit more seriously this time around. Opener and lead single ‘Feet’ benefits hugely from this new approach, keeping the Fat White Family spirit and turning the dial up to 11 on everything else – it really is one of the best tracks they’ve ever put out.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all smooth sailing from there, with tracks like ‘Vagina Dentata’ seriously lacking in any kind of bite, featuring some smooth sax that would be more at home in the lobby of a 5-star hotel. It’s obviously done with tongue firmly in cheek, but that doesn’t prevent the song from outstaying its welcome, even if it is only 3 minutes long. Follow-up ‘Kim’s Sunsets’ strikes a better balance, maintaining the slower pace but incorporating some more interesting (and less incomprehensible) lyrics and instrumental quirks, too.
Towards the tail end of the album, there are a couple more gems. ‘Rock Fishes’ is carried along by a hazy synth line and lyrics like ‘Slowly beating myself to death with a bottle of orange Lucozade’ which remind you why people fell in love with the band in the first place.
At its best, ‘Serfs Up!’ shows just what Fat White Family can do with decent production and some room to breathe, but more often than not it just showcases a band who are fishing around for a new direction and so far, failing to find one.