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Your friendly neighbourhood Fat White Family are back

26 January 2016
Your friendly neighbourhood Fat White Family are back
The Fat White Family have done it again: they have proved to everyone why they are the best. In many ways, it doesn’t matter what their new album, ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ sounds like. The very fact that they have struggled through the Brixton squat where they were conceived, struggled through Fall-esque numbers of band members, struggled into triumph against all the odds, makes this album truly great.

As it happens, the album sounds ace. Menacing, mind-bending, and occasionally monstrous, ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ is sure to be one of the albums of the year.

It’s easy to dismiss the Fat Whites as shock-merchants, modern-day GG Allins, but this is only a tiny dimension of what the band actually is. They’ve got the songs to back up their naked posturing. The musical development is noticeable but the band haven’t lost what made them great from the get-go. Take ‘Satisfied’ for instance; it’s a sexy disco romp but has all the classic Fat Whites hallmarks: crooned vocals, a bluesy riff acting as a bedrock for the song, and lyrics about oral sex… ‘Satisfied’ is the track that Sean Lennon, their musical sugar-daddy, produced and it’s perhaps the most electronic song on the album, but it melds seamlessly in with the other tracks. The production on ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ is something else. The album sounds huge. It’s cavernous, but doesn’t lose anything because of it. The songs could have easily become messy, or crowded, but the production means that the effects are never over-powering. Aside from a few moments where the songs turn into mere walls of noise, the songs are produced perfectly. The drum beats, especially on ‘Hits Hits Hits’, could have been lifted off Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines’ or ‘Mezzanine’. The musical palette that’s on show is wide and varied, taking in kraut, disco, country, psychedelia, trip-hop, but ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ wears these influences lightly - the sound is definitively Fat White Family.

Just four songs in, the Fat Whites hit a peak with ‘Duce’. It’s slow, glacial, but carries with it a genuine sense of menace and unease. This is the kind of music you imagine Mussolini pacing around in his vast office to, waiting for Hitler to arrive and despairing. About half way in, it degenerates into a feedbacky mess not dissimilar to the one in ‘European Son’ by the Velvet Underground. It’s very easy to do this kind of feedback-drenched degeneration badly, but the Fat Whites do it in a way that just heightens your sense of expectation. Then, like the statue of Mussolini falling down in 1944, the song crashes back in all its slow-paced glory. ‘Duce’ and ‘Love Is The Crack’ exemplify this new Fat Whites sound - droney, fatalistic but triumphant. Some of the tracks off the album have the same cadences and aura as old Socialist war songs, as if the Fat White Family are blaring out this album whilst surveying the battleground from their bunker, planning on how next to assault the music industry. If ‘Champagne Holocaust’ was Communist Red, then ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ is a resigned Anarchist black. The album cover is striking and stark (white letters that read ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ on a black background) but contrasts with some of the Fat Whites’ earlier more shocking imagery (i.e their first album, the cover of which had a naked, well-endowed pig with a hammer and sickle in each hand, resplendent with a beer bottle sticking out of its head). Remember that scene in Spinal Tap where the band are forced to have a pure black background due to the obscene cover they wanted to have? Perhaps the cover the Fat Whites wanted to have was so debased, so disgusting, that even Trashmouth Records, their record label, said to them, ‘now guys… this cover is just too much…’.

As per usual, the Fat Whites are not taking any prisoners with their song titles. When I saw the Fat White Family lay waste to the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, one kid started flipping the bird at the band because of ‘Lebensraum’, the song after ‘Duce’, and it descended into a brawl. If this isn’t a perfect symbol of the power of the Fat White Family’s songs then I don’t know what is. To wheel out the Mussolini allusion one last time, ‘Lebensraum’ is the kind of music one would hear accompanying Mussolini and his wife’s last few golden days on Lake Como. It’s a perfect foil to ‘Duce’; summery and waltzy, it’s the kind of song you’d imagine blaring out of some smackhead surfer’s beach house. Some of the songs are just really heroin-y. There is no other word to describe them. Don’t let that put you off at all though. The slowed down pace of some of the songs on this album mean that the instruments are given room to breathe, something that didn’t happen on the first album, ‘Champagne Holocaust’, which although thrilling, was slightly claustrophobic and cluttered.

A lot of people have drawn the line at lyrics about Holocaust victims performing oral sex and Hitler and Goebbels’s reminiscences. Should the content matter? Some may say it’s a welcome change from bands singing about girls and loneliness, others think it’s a step too far.

In terms of lyrics, the album is a masterpiece, referencing the T.S. Eliot poem ‘The Hollow Men’ in another one of the album’s high points, Whitest Boy On The Beach (WBOTB), sucking a ‘half-eaten kiwi fruit’ during sex in ‘Satisfied’, the growing heroin epidemic over the pond in ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’ and everything in between.

The problem I do have with the vocals is that, whilst the kinda soft, kinda sleazy crooning generally works well, more variation might be needed. The Fat Whites are often at their most vital when the crooning stops and the primal screaming begins. What’s more, some of the songs themselves suffer from slight similarities. ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’ has the same motorik insistency as WBOTB, and ‘We Must Learn To Rise’ has the same slow, menacing ideals as ‘Duce’. These are only slight negatives, however, and for the most part this album is sublime.

For all the Fat Whites’s evolution, there are still echoes of the Fat Whites’s demented country band phase. The final song, ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ is a pleasing throwback to the Fat White Family’s earlier work like ‘Who Shot Lee Oswald?’ and ‘Lend Me Some Cutter’. It has a lovely loud recording hiss, the sound of a crap guitar being strummed, and the Fat Whites’s trademark black humour (‘I bid you a Jew’). It takes real masters to turn Hitler and Goebbels’s last days into something wistful and heartfelt, but the Fat Whites achieve it. The Fat White Family have always had a secret tenderness, a humanity to them, despite all their songs about oral sex and domestic violence. This is also evident on ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’, a prowling psych soup, which deals with the tragic story of David Clapson, the ex-soldier who died after his benefits were cut (1).

‘Songs for Our Mothers’ proves that ‘Champagne Holocaust’ was not a fluke, nor were the successive singles they released. It proves that, in one addled, disease-ridden form or another, the band are here to stay. For the optimists, it might even offer a glimmer of hope. No matter how many times it has been said by hyperbolic music writers, Trashmouth Records and the Fat White Family most certainly are a remedy to the pre-packaged indie nonsense that’s battering us into submission. The Fat White Family never tried to get signed to a label, they never made themselves more commercial to garner more success, and they will never sell out. They push the boundaries of taste, and what’s decent, and this is why they must stay. For them, no subject is too holy to write a six-minute drone track about and this is why they are so refreshing. They are sly, and paradoxical, and funny. It sounds like I’m just descending into complete praise of the Fat White Family and I definitely am, but they are one of the only bands that I can get enthused about. They actually provoke a reaction and in this age of dry indie bands who eat vegetables and take supplements, this is a rare occurrence. They are an antidote to the ersatz, and a foil to the fools. Save yourself and, in the gorgeous prose of the band themselves, ‘dance to the beat of human hatred’. Listen to ‘Songs For Our Mothers’ immediately.

(1) Clapson, a type-1 diabetic, was unable to afford to keep the fridge running that kept his insulin cool. The post-mortem found that there was no food whatsoever in his stomach.

Will is a Volunteer Writer for Leeds Living, specialising in music writing. He attends gigs and festivals all across the city of Leeds