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3rd June 2024

Fat White Family – Forgiveness is Yours: Reconfigured family come back to the fore

Five years on from their previous LP, Fat White Family return to the fore with ‘Forgiveness Is Yours’ without songwriter Saul Adamczewski
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Fat White Family – Forgiveness is Yours: Reconfigured family come back to the fore
Credit @ Carry On Press

It has been a gruelling five-year wait without a Fat White Family album, and it’s hardly been easy for the group either in the years between Serfs Up! and the present day. Rehab, relapsing, rehab again and an entire novel stand firmly between the Fats’ ‘old’ and ‘new’ music. That takes us to their newest LP, Forgiveness Is Yours – and in true Fat White Family style, there are surprises and painful uncertainties galore.

Opening with ‘The Archivist’, Lias Saoudi’s sardonic wit marches to the front and centre of the mix, recorded in the style of what sounds like an ode to a 1940s radio play. Saoudi’s trademark of bizarre, warped observations is present throughout. Lines such as “a wild dog preens itself on a gloriously forgettable street corner” certainly prove their worth in metal. Even with the rise and soon-to-be fall of the ‘Post-Punk’ scene, nobody quite writes a line like him.

The Fats’ previous release Serfs Up! saw the group gravitate towards a slicker style of production. Recorded in sunny Sheffield, clearly inspired by the city’s famously shining demeanour, the album saw lo-fi, cheap keyboards sit side-by-side with fuller-sounding synthesisers and classic drum-machine pops and squeaks.

The track ‘John Lennon’ – presumably a classic Fat White Family character piece – continues this turn to electronics, but blends a variety of other elements: delicate finger-picked guitar, psychedelic flutes, and ambient pads underpinning the lot. In a sense, the song is all tension and no release. That shining chorus never comes, despite Saoudi’s vocal line opening up to a belt. But as the song pulls you further and further in, you cling to every word. Flutes, strings, synths – each carefully arranged in a haphazard fashion – swirl around the stereo field, creating a thick fog through which Saoudi’s nasal moans just about breakthrough.

This track is swiftly followed by the first single ‘Bullet of Dignity’. This track is the first telling sign of a distinctly ominous, tooth-gapped shadow that hangs over this album. That spectre is the absence of Saul Adamczewski, the band’s now former musical visionary. Having taken his own time to move to Paris, father a child, begin selling art and – among other things – venture into solo music, Adamczewski seemingly has wanted nothing to do with this LP. It definitely shows in places, and ‘Bullet of Dignity’ is one.

By no means a bad track by most bands’ standards, the song modulates along a similarly slick groove to that of Serfs Up’s lead single, ‘Feet’, only without the palpable magic that the tenuous combination of Lias, Nathan, and Saul brought. The same can be said of ‘Feed the Horse’ and ‘Work’, the album’s two most up-tempo tracks. Both employ a Snapped Ankles-style frenetic krautrock beat to great effect and are produced brilliantly, but seem to lack something.

‘Work’ stands out as an oddity, falling foul of Saoudi’s typically high bar for lyricism. The topic of job-seeking is something the Saoudi brother is fluent in, however, it is something he has already covered in a much more succinct and playful way. ‘Work’ seems all too similar to The Moonlandingz’ track ‘I.D.S’ (which Lias Saoudi wrote and sang), and not in a good way.

fat white family
Credit: Carry On Press

Fat White Family’s off-cuts and album tracks are often where they truly shine. Songs such as Serfs Up!’s ‘When I Leave’ and Songs for our Mothers‘ ‘Hits Hits Hits’ take time – and many listens – to truly open up, but once they do, layers of intricate detail are revealed. I hope the same happens for tracks such as ‘Religion For One’ and ‘Polygamy Is Only For The Chief’, but unfortunately only time will tell. For as much as they flaunt their unique lyrical style and industrial guitar stabs, the two tracks again seem to be lacking in something to tie them together – to make them truly noticeable.

The album’s true standouts are ‘Visions of Pain’ and ‘What’s That You Say’, and both are perfect examples of what the band do best: a distinct sense of urban sleaze. The former – a reinterpretation of Art Garfunkel’s version of ‘Waters of March’ slips and slides in and out of a delicate groove, only punctuated by Alex White’s throaty saxophone.

‘What’s That You Say’ sees the group tread on familiar, disco-tinged sounds that first emerged on their second LP Songs For Our Mothers. It is ground the Fats can tread incredibly well. Something about their stilted sensibilities marries perfectly with a lilting disco beat. The chorus is emphatic, subtle and full of references to all sorts of forgotten 70s and 80s pop – a treasure-trove of reinterpretation.

Another standout – for very different reasons – is ‘Today You Become Man’. The song is dripping in confused masculinity, that confronts you square-on with Saoudi narrating his brother’s experience of being circumcised in Algeria at age 5. Intrusive yet utterly transfixing; a brilliantly repulsive track through and through, full of Saoudi’s keen-eyed lines.

As the album draws to a close, ‘You Can’t Force It’ stumbles into frame. A ballad of sorts, the likes of which wouldn’t seem out of place in the music-hall tradition if it weren’t for the subject matter, gives me hope. Despite certain members having gone their own way, the band will walk away from this album with their sense of humour intact.

Forgiveness Is Yours reveals that the Fat White Family still to some degree has ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is. The potent importance of this band, in a musical landscape that can be described as toothless at the best of times, cannot be understated. No group quite captures a lyric, blend of influences or taste for the truly provocative quite like they do. Let’s hope they can stay together long enough for another stab.

Jacob Broughton-Glerup

Jacob Broughton-Glerup

Jacob Broughton-Glerup is a music journalist and avid music fan from Sheffield interested in all things lyrical and odd.

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