Search The Line of Best Fit
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Fat White Family return in experimental but blunted fashion on Forgiveness Is Yours

"Forgiveness Is Yours"

Release date: 26 April 2024
Fat White Family Forgiveness Is Yours cover
23 April 2024, 09:00 Written by Joe Creely

You have to feel for Fat White Family, at least in some ways.

Every time they seem poised to kick up a gear something goes wrong. Here’s a band who rode out into the particularly spineless early 2010s indie scene with feral live shows and a scabrous, funny take on filthy countrified post-punk, and against all odds became something of a success, only to collapse in a narcotised shambles after their biggest ever headline show at Brixton Academy. Then getting it all back together to get onto a major indie label to put out their most complete record to date with 2019’s Serf’s Up, and then with an imminent world tour, the world shut down for a year and a half. In that time the band's leader Lias Saoudi remodelled himself as a writer of often very funny prose, co-writing an account of the band's life until that point (10,000 Apologies), whilst nearly every other member embarked on one solo project or another. In all this hubbub Saul Adamczewski, co-founder and lead writer of their music left the group, and his absence is felt on Forgiveness Is Yours, a record that for what is good about it never quite coalesces into a record that matches up to their previous work.

This isn’t to say that they haven’t made patchy records before; Songs For Our Mothers has got a couple of absolute duffers on it, but the highs of that record are so much higher than they are here. The record has a similar sense of experimenting with genres as their last record Serf’s Up, rolling from twitchy electro freak outs all the way to gently sauntering cabaret ballads. But here there is an implacable flatness to a good few of the songs that is unlike anything they’ve done before. In a strange way, despite their disparate sounds, the songs struggle to create any real sense of identity for themselves. A song like "John Lennon” for instance, on paper reads like it should at the very least be an outlier for the band, it’s a bit of tumbling pastoral folk with woodwinds that reaches a kind of spiritual jazz apex, certainly a left turn for a band that is best known for scuzzy abrasion. Yet it feels curiously forgettable, ambling along, intensifying but never making itself felt. Similarly “Feed The Horse” has the bones of a good song about it; there’s a suggestion of a breakneck energy, but it all feels too safely assembled, never loose enough to really rattle along like it tries to.

Similarly, Saoudi’s lyrics, so often a key part of what makes them an exciting group, feel curiously nondescript here. They’re in some ways smarter but seem to have lost some of the personality, blending together into a mulch of arch-nihilism. I don’t need every song to be about serial killers or dictators, but in the past Saoudi’s lyrics have always had that gift of having a line or two that can hit like a bolt of lightning. Sadly they are in short supply here.

This isn’t to say there isn’t good stuff on here, by no means. “What’s That You Say” may sound a touch like a Baxter Dury cast off, but its sleazy slink is undeniable, and the squall that it concludes with wrestles it back to feeling like their own. While ‘Visions of Pain’ does a better job at updating Cohen’s doomy lounge-act era than most who have tried, a knotty, wriggling bassline giving it a brilliant murky haze.

But "Today You Become Man" stands as a microcosm of the successes and failures of the album as a whole. The subject is bold, an imagined first person narration based on the third (non-band member) Saoudi brothers’ real forced circumcision as a child, and the frantic, nightmarish take on Blaxploitation soundtracks that carries it along has real propulsive punch. But it all feels strangely hollow, missing something to really hit home, never quite pushing on to be the great song that feels like it is in there.

There is certainly the sense of Forgiveness Is Yours as a feet finding record, an undeniable result of losing one of the essential reasons Fat White Family are what they are. It changes its arm in a myriad of directions, with only a few really working, but they remain a band set apart from those around them, even if here they stumble.

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