Fat White Family – Serfs Up! review

Secret Meeting score: 83

by Philip Moss

In December 2016, Laurence Bell – the head honcho at Domino Records (yes, the label that has seen acts such Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand go from new kids on the block to household names) – was touting his latest signees: “Anyone with a nose for genuine rock’n’roll already knows that Fat White Family are plainly the most exciting, influential and talked-about band to come out of this country in the last few years. We are delighted, if slightly nervous, at the prospect of taking them to the next level.”

The nerves are understandable. Since their inception, eight years ago, the group has been involved its fair share of controversy. And while their live shows go down in folklore, their long players – despite showing flashes of brilliance – have been patchy. But Fat White Family have always had that indescribable ‘something’ that separates them. And this, after all, is the same label that took a punt on Mark E. Smith and released one of the best late-era Fall collections, so working with these young pups should be a doddle, right?

Lead single, Feet, is the biggest and most pompous statement the band have made to date – lathed with strutting glam drums, orchestral flourishes and stabs, and Gregorian chants. Initial writing sessions for the album were started by brothers Lias and Nathan Saoudi, but it was the return of Saul Adamczewski who instigated the disco pop element to the record’s opener; it is certainly packed full of drama, and marks the next stage in the band’s career with aplomb.

I Believe in Something Better feels like a new found manifesto – as if each track across Serfs Up! is a bold attempt to push the envelope regarding what they can be – while Vagina Dentata’s packed with sexy Bowie-isms, and its refrain of ‘it’s everything you ever wanted to become, but didn’t have the courage,’ also feels like it has been adopted as a doctrine on their most confident and career best LP. Before the glam influences raise their head again on the ironic, establishment mocking Tastes Good With The Money – its Supergrass strut, fuzz guitars and buzzing electronics underpin a spoken word section from Baxter Dury on the record’s most instant cut.

Despite the LP being written and recorded in West Yorkshire – Sheffield to be precise – Oh Sebastian has somewhat of a West Coast feel to it, in part evoking the more camp moments of The Dandy Warhols. But it’s the choral loop that swirls the song’s outro, which is perhaps the biggest nod towards the The Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up and the origins of the long player’s title.

On Serfs Up, the band’s promise finally comes to fruition in the recorded form. And regardless of Bell’s involvement, this is certainly one of the most moreish albums of the year to date. It’s still got its fair share of cheeky chappery, but their interpretation of skewed pop definitely marks the next level for one of alternative music’s most exciting acts.

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