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The Lead Review

The Lead Review: Lee Arizuno On Fat White Family's Songs For Our Mothers
Lee Arizuno , January 15th, 2016 10:34

"There's a lot to be said for saying the wrong thing." With today's release of Songs For Our Mothers, the awaited follow up to Fat White Family's 2013 debut Champagne Holocaust, Lee Arizuno takes his tolerance to the limit

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No-one invited the Fat White Family.

When 'Cream Of The Young' rose back in 2013 they made a baffling prospect, raw and endearingly daft but naggingly, unavoidably onto a good thing. They looked and sounded like they were doing what we'd begun to think was impossible: living on nothing in the inner city, at the heart of a truly independent music scene hardly anyone had noticed, performing vile acts without a second thought for the witnesses. Stranger still, they soon reached a decent-sized audience, some of it shared with the bland, second-guessing, stylist-rescued swots and squares who dominate British quasi-indie guitar music. Politically active, friends with freaks of all ages, dressed up but anti-fashion, and festering in north Brixton (not Hackney with the rest of the industry), they've been the ghost at the pop-up shipping container artisanal feast ever since. Our guys in these years of vicious recession and merciless gentrification, flagrant political doublespeak and tail-chasing comment culture, desperation and cowardice in the face of diminishing life prospects.

If they have a muse, it's the point at which disgust and pleasure meet. Those videos filled with dead meat and live flesh, unusual faces shot from jarring angles, only make visible what the records are doing: your head in. Strong melodies with jagged contours, brain-wronging phrases chanted in lieu of choruses, forgotten garage rock licks mixed with artful post-punk aesthetics. They conjure the thrill of scrambled signals when you're off your rocker on booze and drugs, project an uncensored phantasmagoria. Each single since Champagne Holocaust has taken their quest further but somehow sounded more like a hit, from the punchily perverse 'Touch The Leather' to the brain-burrowing incantation, 'Wet Hot Beef'. Those drawn in have been able to sustain themselves on stronger meat still while waiting for their long-trailed second album to appear, served up by their idiot cousins Warmduscher and Demian Skogr's demented videos (content warning: bestiality, animal cruelty, noise and confusion).

And Songs For Our Mothers is worth that stay in their red room. First of all, it sounds incredible. If you've heard 'The Whitest Boy On The Beach' you've had a taste of their new Kraut-pop style, but 'Tinfoil Deathstar' takes it supernova. Imagine a wilder version of Broadcast's 'Pendulum', echoed crashes and guitar skree like meteors imperilling and sharpening your high. Its ingenious conceit sets the tone for the album's often hair-raising lyrics: heroin use is taking off as the government culls its citizens through benefit sanctions, a grim vision we all recognise. Two verses of desperate escapism, then this:

Is that David Clapson
Wincing through the glass?
A deck of death-white sanctions
Firmly in his grasp.

A decent recording budget seems to have done justice to Saul Adamczewski's gift for arrangements. Another unique Fat White Family genre piece, the cavernous ode to a dictator debuted in 'I Am Joseph Stalin', is developed further here. It's Mussolini's turn on 'Duce', and its heavy, folk-tinged altered state captures something like what the Stooges called the 'O-mind', a vivid taste of amoral oblivion. It sounds gargantuan and you'd be hard-pressed to make out the lyrics, so here's a taste:

There's a nice clean gene pool
For you to jump in
Hanging from a meat hook.

Now, aside from Scott Walker I can't think of a pop artist who's wrestled with Mussolini. One obvious difference is that Fat White Family's song titles tend to work as punchlines or one-liners; their humour has always been jet-black and integral to the kick. To an outsider, a quick scan of the tracklist on Songs For Our Mothers - see also 'Lebensraum' and 'Goodbye Goebbels' - could suggest that they'd made a concept album celebrating fascism. And that's the gag: we know they epitomise degenerate art, that their logo includes a hammer and sickle and that they've been keen protesters for the left. And, lets face it, fascist dictators are pretty comical characters to us from this safe distance – preposterous, discredited authority figures – even though we're well aware of the horrors they wrought. I love the idea of a budding neo-Nazi stumbling across the video for 'Whitest Boy On The Beach' only to watch their fantasies of racial superiority being soiled and queered by its bizarro celebration of physical inferiority.

Comment fans who've yet to get an opinion-boner should stick around, because it does get worse. What's this dreamy waltz you could play to your nan? Wait, 'When Shipman Decides'? Yep, we're floating through the world of the notorious Hyde doctor, Demerol enthusiast and Sigmund Freud lookalike credited with administering fatal overdoses of diamorphine to hundreds of elderly women and men, but mostly women, and stashing their jewellery in his garage. I'm not going to pretend I didn't laugh like a drain when the chorus tripped me up. It's a sick joke, and a neat callback to the unchecked cruelty, injustice and opioids in 'Tinfoil Deathstar'. Could a family member of one of Shipman's many victims see the song title and feel angry? Quite possibly. But the idea that anyone would write a song celebrating this guy is so absurd that it takes us back to where we started: that's the point, whether you approve or not. He's only here because he shouldn't be. There's a lot to be said for saying the wrong thing, and for irony being a consolation to anyone who feels a bit powerless or disconnected for whatever reason.

Dictators and serial killers are all well and grotesque, but another spectre taps softly on the window of Songs For Our Mothers: the archetypal all-male rock band. Lias Saoudi has always played the priapic shaman impeccably, objectifying himself for the benefit of the audience and taking the worst pratfalls in their videos' surreal erotic scenarios. Any incipient group boorishness has been diverted into comedy and colourful weirdness. Has life on the road and living in close quarters for so long changed them at all? As celebrations of receiving a blowjob go, 'Satisfied' – a rockabillied relative of Iggy Pop's 'Nightclubbing' – is not uncomplicated and certainly stays on the right side of cliché. It's one thing to go there in a song; it's another to compare a lucky lady with Primo Levi sucking the marrow from a bone, presumably while starving in Auschwitz – a time of trauma he spent the rest of his life writing to come to terms with before possibly committing suicide. A bold image, you'll agree, but isn't this closer to Smell The Glove than (the non-gendered ) 'Touch The Leather' in spirit? I'd say "it's such a fine line" to be cute, but to be honest I can't tell what on earth the lyrics are actually trying to do.

And that goes for much of Fat White Family's music: they usually sing in falsetto, harmonies and screams, all swathed in glorious, overwhelming sheets of sound. It's unlikely you'd take in much beyond the headline phrase without the aid of a lyric sheet; as always in pop, the performance tells the story, not the text. 'Hits Hits Hits' is in some ways the neatest show here. It's apparently a character piece about Ike and Tina Turner's abusive personal and professional relationship, conceived as a parallel with Saoudi and Adamczewski's. There seem to be three kinds of hits: the pop kind (it's as catchy as a sharpened up 'Oh! Sweet Nuthin'' by the Velvet Underground); the opioid kind (not only the VU vibe, but also the tremoloed guitar favoured by enthusiasts from Jason Pierce to Steven Drozd); and the violent kind (the industrial smashes punctuating the chorus, and of course the Turners' tale). You knew a 'but' was coming. In principle, an all-male band could dramatise the story of Ike and Tina Turner from either party's point of view. But Fat White Family are not that band. It wouldn't be fair to let the tail wag the dog here – you can enjoy the song as a sweet nothing easily enough – but these lyrics don't add up to a story. They do, however, include the lines "Sister Tina don't be shy, patience is starting to bruise / Better spread that nutbush wide", the first material that's made me shout, "enough of your shit!" at Fat White Family. I don't know what's gone down between band members, but I'd hope such a famously abusive heterosexual relationship would put it in (too much) perspective.

Speaking of which, a brief postscript on the comment-industrial complex. The band have said that being branded Stalinists online and fascists has already rendered them immune to criticism - so bear in mind that you will always get a Fat White Family, no matter what you say. More broadly, pull at any comment thread and it will always lead you back, or forward, to a newspaper opinion piece written for spare change and designed only to keep an issue framed in a way that encourages further comment.

At the hour of writing, we're supposed to be having opinions about a Charlie Hebdo cartoon. No French people, let alone French Muslims, feature in the top tweets or scores of opinion pieces published in recent hours, but your instructions are clear. The gist is that you may choose option 'A' ("I put #jesuischarlie in my thing a year ago so I believe in freedom of speech but don't understand what racism is") or option 'B' ("I think cartoons that depict Muslims are bad because that is what racists also do"). There is no option 'C', let alone the most widely favoured option, '0' ("I have no opinion, I am neither French nor a Muslim, nor a subscriber to Charlie Hebdo nor anything else; bugger off"). And certainly no option '?' ("Has anyone got anything interesting or informative to say about this cartoon?"). You must belong. And so this pyramid scheme of mutually assured disingenuousness will continue to pimp our instincts, hijack campaigning and protest, and ruin our posture. One thing's for sure: its players will always have a tin ear for the the ambiguous, non-textual, irreducible experiences culture provides, which only get in the way of having your say.

Would you like to use your historically unprecedented freedom of speech to recycle hot air? Or would you like to join the '0's, '?'s and others? Donate your unpaid labour below.

ryan seacrest
Jan 15, 2016 12:52pm

first!

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DAZ
Jan 15, 2016 1:08pm

Cabaret Voltaire, do the Mussolini headkick

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Jan 15, 2016 3:40pm

So... it's good then?

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Hang on
Jan 15, 2016 10:44pm

cheers for top review, been really excited by this album. Fat white family were amazing at Field Day and this review captures that queasy wrongness about them. The only thing they lacked was that killer tune, the unarguable song that matched the excitement and the cultural signifiers that they appear to embody, and Whitest Boy on the Beach manages that, with a video that you could happily show to no one. Beautiful.

Fantastic review, very perceptive, thank you.

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Jan 15, 2016 11:21pm

Does this band's work offer anything my time wants to buy? No, it doesn't.
Do Hebdo's cartoons? No, they don't.
I do like some humorous offensive piece of art from time to time, but these aren't my thing, you know.
Perhaps I lack the level of perception required to see beyond this sort of offensive approach.
On the other hand, I find the above such reliable a depiction of the band's material that I don't even need to listen for myself, particularly where lyrics are quoted.

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Jan 16, 2016 1:49am

I think they meant the Peppa family cartoon.
o o
(#)

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nick
Jan 16, 2016 4:59am

you need an editor

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Bored
Jan 16, 2016 12:13pm

Do people have group amnesia about this band? It's all been done before but better. It seems everything they do is a rip off of something better but they have to take their clothes off on stage for people to notice…

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scared hackers?
Jan 16, 2016 12:52pm

I was sent there a long time ago, and the subject was partially referred to in a book by a 16-year-old guy who must be turning 26 this year.
Being an inspiration for short paragraphs and verses, that's what he and his friend think I need,just because they think I need.
I think that listening to this band is a niceway to keep on waiting for the next answer. Of course it Will be ole me answering myself.

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Andrew Haydon
Jan 16, 2016 3:47pm

DAF - Tanz der Mussolini

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Bestofboth
Jan 16, 2016 7:48pm

Reading the above aloud requires a large glass of chilled tap water.

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Jan 16, 2016 8:09pm

In reply to Bored:

I wouldn't agree with you entirely. There are antecedents but no more than any other bands; early sebadoh, from where I'm sitting. What is new is that unsettling wrongness, an agenda or worldview that doesn't make sense and comes through in their music. There is no effort to be liked. I've seen'em come and I've seen 'em go, just like you clearly have, but that in itself is no reason on which to dismiss FWF. The reviewer has articulated what makes them special and it is that that needs to be discussed, rather than simply saying 'old hat' and moving on. What band in the last 20 years doesn't sound like someone else?

No one says they are sonically without precedent. What are your thoughts regarding the specific claims made about FWF in the review? Genuinely interested.

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Jan 16, 2016 8:09pm

In reply to Bored:

I wouldn't agree with you entirely. There are antecedents but no more than any other bands; early sebadoh, from where I'm sitting. What is new is that unsettling wrongness, an agenda or worldview that doesn't make sense and comes through in their music. There is no effort to be liked. I've seen'em come and I've seen 'em go, just like you clearly have, but that in itself is no reason on which to dismiss FWF. The reviewer has articulated what makes them special and it is that that needs to be discussed, rather than simply saying 'old hat' and moving on. What band in the last 20 years doesn't sound like someone else?

No one says they are sonically without precedent. What are your thoughts regarding the specific claims made about FWF in the review? Genuinely interested.

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kneeling on your meals
Jan 16, 2016 10:35pm

I spent some time wondering why I couldn't give an opinion about this review. Well, I've just answered to myself: because I've always been lousy at blowjob.
Must be a cultural thing, but that environment never seemed exciting to me.
On the other hand, those guys airing their butts, the sado halo circling their phenomena. I think that under such influence I'd hit some people just in case, without questioning myself why and only because it looks it can only be infuriating to me.

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Jan 16, 2016 11:16pm

Their live show has elements of great live music, their charisma is unarguable but all the above quoted lyrics are as bad as any I have ever read.

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Jan 16, 2016 11:43pm

I don't know, this is perhaps a way to keep us babbling here while other people are preparing their number to tell us how mediocre we are to engage in pointless business and waste our precious time and our even a more precious chance to excel in wathever business our butthead's nature tells us to do -be it a blowjob or a poem. Wait, what a coincidence!

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floods
Jan 17, 2016 12:15am

Can't you see how tragic is this? They ain't got a penny, there's no lucky lady! I'm all tears and not joking at all!

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xxi schyzoid
Jan 17, 2016 1:39am

Offer an apple to that afflicted Peppa pig and a warm place to rest while you Cook dinner!

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xxi schyzoid
Jan 17, 2016 1:39am

Offer an apple to that afflicted Peppa pig and a warm place to rest while you Cook dinner!

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Jan 17, 2016 12:22pm

In reply to nick:

Can you, please, tell us who needs an editor, Nick?

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Jan 17, 2016 2:12pm

You all need to listen to Ben Wallers bands: The Rebel & The Country Teasers. These Fat White Family guys certainly did and took notes. Everything they do was made but those bands before. EVERYTHING. The loose garage-post punk thing. The wrongness, the serial killers and the dictators too. Even the way they wear camo. Go, listen to it and comeback here.

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John Doran
Jan 17, 2016 6:44pm

In reply to :

What, you mean The Rebel who they've consistently name-checked in interviews, played gigs with and taken on tour? Yeah, they really tried to keep that influence on two or three of their early songs really hushed up. It would probably be more pertinent to ask if Ben's influence can be heard on the new LP... not so much really.

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Betty
Jan 17, 2016 7:38pm

I think they are good looks and sing well.

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Jeamms
Jan 18, 2016 3:16pm

I saw one of them shoplifting a pack of Walls Back Bacon in a Co-Op once and he clocked me seeing him doing it. He sort of did one of those hisses Cats do at me and them ran out the shop.

I think think album will probably be like having a wank and rolling back your foreskin and finding a load of smeg under it.

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eke
Jan 18, 2016 3:18pm

In reply to :

Jack Ruby giving a blow job to Peter Sissons

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James
Jan 18, 2016 3:34pm

Like that new track but is there record label still named after a rape gag. If so, I'm still out.

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Jan 19, 2016 11:26am

grammar schoolboy try hard nonsense

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Hellione666
Jan 19, 2016 1:36pm

The only band that has excited me in years in everything they do... yes yes YESSSS!!

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Spag Bol
Jan 19, 2016 5:12pm

Big Black - Il Duce

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Charlie Hall
Feb 10, 2016 10:06pm

Excellent. I have a terrible thirst for anything that smells of new music. Every now and then I come across a Fever Ray, a (pre-contract) Weeknd, Whitey...I thirst for a sound that I haven't heard before, lyrics that are different..something new in this tediously self-referential world. I like the transgressive quality of the music and lyric, song titles and the band.
The review was great, covered most of that

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