With two polarizing albums of rickety misanthropic lo-fi shenanigans under their belt, Britain's Fat White Family add a dash of pop grandeur to their still-difficult third outing. More often than not, the Peckham-bred combo have inspired a love-them-or-loathe-them reaction, pitting provocative humor and biting satire against an underachieving backdrop of tinny Casio synths and harsh, wonky psych guitars. While many celebrated their chaotic approach, it always seemed like something a bit more substantial was around the corner. When lead guitarist Saul Adamczewski turned up in 2018 with his own more cohesive pop project, Insecure Men, listeners got a taste of what Fat White Family might be capable of if they backed off a bit on the mischief and upped their production value a couple of notches. Serfs Up!, their debut venture for Domino Records, is that album. After creatively convalescing in Sheffield for a few years, the band set their sights on something a bit more ambitious and pop-oriented. Without sacrificing their edge, frontman Lias Saoudi and his crew turn in a handful of genuine highlights, particularly in the opener, "Feet," a dark-hued disco-style banger with smart arrangements that is equal parts sleekness and heft. Built around an ornate string quartet arrangement, "Oh Sebastian" takes a turn toward chamber pop with drifting vocal stacks and timpani accents. As on previous releases, politics and society remain an easy lyrical target with characters like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ("Kim's Sunsets") and American bomber Ted Kaczynski ("I Believe in Something Better") making appearances amid the inevitable undertones of Brexit anxiety. Of course, parts of Serfs Up! are just as dilapidated as earlier Fat White Family releases, with tracks like "Vagina Dentata" and "Fringe Runner" marked by sleazy overdriven grooves and other abrasions. Still, the band show significant growth here on what is easily their most accomplished effort to date.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger