Fat White Family: Champagne Holocaust

One critic tries to figure out why everyone loves Fat White Family and she doesn't.

Fat White Family

Champagne Holocaust

Label: Fat Possum / Trash Mouth
US Release Date: 2014-08-19
UK Release Date: 2013-12-02

It can feel quite disorienting when seemingly everyone with an opinion unanimously loves something that you see nothing in. This feeling is even worse when that thing is something you would ordinarily be keen on. Fat White Family’s Champagne Holocaust was released in 2013 to a bounty of praise from the British press. Nearly all the critics who encountered the album wept with joy over a perceived return to rock ‘n’ roll rawness and edge, while also heeding that the outrageous six-piece had to be seen live for their esteemed christening of “best young British rock band in the UK” to truly click.

After seeing Fat White Family live, and then listening to Champagne Holocaust half a dozen times, I still don’t get what the big deal is. Sure, in a live setting, lead singer Lias Saudi was exposing himself within the first few minutes of the first song, and I left the show with butter smeared on my boots, but I never once felt uneasy, threatened, shocked or converted. Sean Lennon was Instagramming the whole show, for goodness’ sakes – and no one in attendance was going to start urinating on the band, ala a degenerate at a Birthday Party gig (see the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth for full anecdote) in the early ‘80s, although I guess this speaks to the staidness of the average indie audience as well. I would even go so far as to say the highlight of the night had nothing to do with anything Fat White Family was actually doing. Rather, it was when the far superior Shilpa Ray, who had played earlier that evening, stuck a dollar down Saudi’s pants – after he finally put them back on.

Musically, Fat White Family’s touchstones are quality: Iggy Pop, the Cramps, the Mekons, and a little bit of the Fall. So why does most of Champagne Holocaust sound so damn inconsequential? Apart from a few songs that are actually pretty entertaining, it grabs the most attention when it’s blatantly appropriating the Cramps (as on “Heaven on Earth”) or annoying to an almost overwhelming degree (see “Who Shot Lee Oswald”, which for some reason is the third song on the album). What’s more, many of the songs just aren’t that provocative. There’s just not much shocking these days about a minor indie band touting socialism or titling a song “Bomb Disneyland”, even if that song includes lyrics about dead children.

There are still a few tracks on Champagne Holocaust that are keeping me from totally dismissing it, although the fact that one of these tracks wasn’t included on the original UK release maybe should. “Is It Raining in Your Mouth?” is by far the best song here, a bell-strew masterclass in tastelessness. The song title should say it all, but the refrain, “five sweaty fingers on the dashboard” manages to up the ante. “Special Ape!” is definitely dumb, but its brevity keeps the silliness from growing stale. And that US-only cut, “Touch the Leather”, is the only time Champagne Holocaust really feels like an album only a serial killer would listen to. The band’s humor also helps to elevate the song, with Saudi’s ridiculously accented “Oh oh oh oh”’s being particularly memorable.

Ultimately, though, I sit dumbfounded by Fat White Family’s praise. Something in me wishes that they had something new or interesting to say about bad taste, even though they certainly have no obligation to do such a thing. As someone routinely bored by the current music scene, I still find the Fat White Family’s hysteria “canned” in a way that makes it impossible for me to just lay back and take their ribaldry. Don’t overthink things, though, and perhaps you will.





Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.


'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.


2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.


'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.


Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.


Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.


Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration in Her Texas Roots on 'World on the Ground'

By turning to her roots in central Texas for inspiration on World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz has crafted some of her strongest songs yet.


Hinds' 'The Prettiest Curse' Is One of Victory

On The Prettiest Curse, Hinds create messy pop music that captures the vibrancy of youth without being childish.


12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.