Much of the hubbub surrounding Fat White Family relates to their full-on, no holds/holes barred, tumultuous live performances and lifestyle. Translating decadence, drugs, nudity and flour bombs into an audio only performance is a hard ask and it’s fair to say that as yet, the Fat Whites have not worked out how to make a satisfying recording of their electrifying performances. Still there’s more than one way to skin a cat and garner attention, and Songs For Our Mothers is full of tunes and subjects that seek to shock. (Although cat skinning and animal cruelty is one of the few areas left untouched.)
It’s hard to know just how to judge the Fat White Family accurately. They revel in being confrontational and wilfully inflammatory, and Songs For Our Mothers will definitely raise a few hackles. Over the course of the album the band throws as much grime and dark humour into the mix as possible covering fascism, drugs, domestic abuse, serial killers, and the deaths of benefits claimants. Whether there’s a purpose to it all, beyond trying to be as offensive as possible is open to interpretation. Of course there’s a place for humour in music (to answer Frank Zappa’s question) and there’s certainly a place for high levels of offensive and subversive material too. The likes of The Frogs, GG Allin, Laibach and Throbbing Gristle all made (and in some cases, continue to make) records and gave performances that could be described as confrontational and offensive. Fat White Family find themselves at something of a crossroads with Songs For Our Mothers. Is flinging shit around, getting naked and being lyrically outrageous enough in and of itself, or do they really have a point to make?
The video for the album’s opening track, The Whitest Boy On The Beach, sees the band at Beachy Head, done up in military garb, looking not unlike the previously mentioned Laibach whilst simultaneously referencing Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Musically it’s probably the strongest moment on the album (curiously, it’s the one song that doesn’t seek to agitate), and sees them indulging in Germanic synth-pop and addressing beach body envy. Also mining that Krautrock/Psych vein is Tinfoil Deathstar, a claustrophobic chugging behemoth that addresses heroin addiction, and the possibility of the Government killing of the population by refusing benefits to those most in need. That the killer line regarding David Clapson (look it up) is delivered in a flat spoken voice right at the heart of song suggests that sometimes the Fat Whites themselves are actually offended and have something worthwhile to say.
Away from these two tracks, almost everything else consists of mid-paced dirges swamped in reverb. Kneeling in homage to Iggy Pop (Satisfied), Velvet Underground and in the case of Hit Hit Hit (a song that addresses Tina Turner and domestic abuse), early wonky Ween cast offs. The Fat Whites seem content to render their lyrics almost unintelligible with a low mix and a veil of echo. Is that Lias Saoudi comparing getting a blow job to a starving concentration camp victim sucking clean a bone? Yes, probably. It’d be easier to get offended by Duce, a song about Mussolini (apparently; if you could hear anything being said). The main travesty relating to that song in particular isn’t the lyrics, it’s that it lacks ambition. The best moments of Love Is The Crack come when Saoudi stops crooning and lets the woozy off-kilter music take a hold. The nursery rhyme waltz of When Shipman Decides is pretty elegant, and lyrically almost certainly hilarious, but it’s practically impossible to figure out what they’re on about. The Fall covered Shipman far better on What About Us? Even the slightly pissed-up oompah of Lebensraum is sung in (unintelligible) German.
There are some positives however. The unrelenting dirge of We Must Learn To Rise is at least forceful and bleakly brutal, and its use in The Great British Bake Off as a soundtrack to some poorly performing sponge cakes seems entirely likely – assuming that’s what it’s about. The surprisingly affecting closing folk strum of Goodbye Goebbels, which describes in quite romantic detail the final reflections of Hitler in his bunker, is actually rather pretty. The Fat Whites’ second album is, then, something of a mixed bag, but the most offensive thing about it is not the lyrical content, it’s the fact that the band doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions and say what it means in an intelligible manner. Their edge has been knocked off in a cloud of reverb. Their mothers will be very disappointed in them indeed. Speak clearly, boys.