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The Lead Review

Fat White Family Hit Paydirt: Serfs Up! Reviewed
Adelle Stripe , April 18th, 2019 08:00

Adelle Stripe feels the caressing sting of Fat White Family’s triumphant third album

There is no darkness like that of a bleak Yorkshire winter, days when the light barely rises and outside the streets are pounded with relentless horizontal rain. It is fitting that from this climate and post-industrial landscape emerges Serfs Up!, a shimmering spectacle of delight. Recorded at Champzone Studios in Attercliffe, Sheffield, Fat White Family’s third album should be regarded alongside their forebears – Cabaret Voltaire, Human League and Pulp – as a welcome addition to the musical canon of Steel City.

Opening track ‘Feet’ uses Gregorian chants to introduce the trip, which I’m considering to be an aural expedition that departs from Beachy Head on a U-boat only to emerge on a tropical island in the blazing sun. It is a slick urban monastic death poem that quickly transforms into a mirrorball banger, with seedy vocals that writhe and kick. This is Lee Hazlewood’s lost weekend at Danceteria, a party we all wish we’d been invited to.

Lias Saoudi has the deserved reputation as one of the wildest frontmen in the country right now, yet it is perhaps only known to a few that he is equally a brilliant writer. The onstage antics are a distraction, but on Serfs Up! there are moments of lyrical prowess, where bitterness, cruelty and humour collide, no more so than in the political ‘Feet’ (“G.G. Hadi tears in the Woody Allah dirt / This one’s on a crusade, this ones stuck at work / I hope your children wash up bloated on my shore”) or ‘Tastes Good with the Money’, a song about the Grenfell Tower and a vicious comment on Kensington’s onlookers, where “The air up there now fresh and clean / People from nowhere poison everywhere / Sketching ruins in the dark.” Baxter Dury also makes an appearance in this discombobulating track that sounds like a warped Sweet cassette, hidden in the loft since 1978.

There are many points in this frequently surprising record that provide a sojourn, ‘Oh Sebastian’ is clever and smart, a delightful drift into a lucid dream.. Like ‘Rock Fishes’, ‘Bobby’s Boyfriend’ and the reggae-tinged ‘Kim’s Sunsets’, it provides a blissful soundtrack for a deserted beach, slowly burning beneath the palm trees.

But for every blast of light the heart of darkness remains, it is there in ‘Fringe Runner’, where Grandmaster Flash is reimagined with a ‘Ghost Rider’-esque whispered vocal; this is the sound of illicit sex down a dark alleyway. Or more obviously in ‘When I Leave’, which is the undeniable highlight. Its caressing sting shows a level of sophistication rarely achieved by their contemporaries. Saul Adamczewski’s haunted mambo is a goosebumper, a pitched-down ‘Red Right Hand’ that will one day become the theme to the greatest HBO series ever made. The arrangement is transcendent.

As a collaborative effort (one look at the sleeve notes shows the vast array of musicians involved) Serfs Up! is pitch-perfect. It’s no surprise that this was a tough record to make, but from pain and hardship comes great art. Their previous release, Songs for Our Mothers, clearly represented a vile descent into Hades, and was peppered with a violent undercurrent that ran through its veins. With their third album, the band has taken an about-turn, reaching out from the circles of purgatory towards a realm of blissful enlightenment. Yet the uneasy listening and lyrical bite still resonates beneath lush strings and saxophone flourishes. There is a subversive pulse even in its brightest corners, and unexpected moments of silliness and joy throughout. Serfs Up! provides a glistering antidote to the wasteland of Britain in 2019.

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