As regular readers and listeners may know we are very keen on Family Fodder here at TSP. We were introduced to the music of this UK post-punk band around 1981, by which time they’d produced a number of excellent singles for Fresh Records, and the album Monkey Banana Kitchen in 1980. Said album is today regarded as something of an unfairly overlooked “classic”, perhaps for its daring use of dub mixing effects combined with post-punk themes, the spirited yet understated playing, and the imaginative lyrics with their oblique approach to songwriting, attempting to subvert over-familiar themes. Said album has also recently been remastered and reissued by Staubgold, making it accessible to today’s audiences. When TSP print magazine started, Alig Pearce – the main man behind Family Fodder, although numerous talented UK players and singers were also involved – was the first person we interviewed, thanks to initiative of Harley Richardson who managed to track him down to an address in South London. “He seemed very genuine,” was the comment of Chris Butler, one reader who appreciated Alig’s interview.
This is just by way of preamble to Variety (THE STATE51 CONSPIRACY CON156CD), the new Family Fodder album which we received in July 2013. It’s hugely enjoyable and very much recommended, which is more than I could say for the lukewarm 2000 album Water Shed, even though it featured many of the original members, including the French singer Dominique Levillain. Water Shed seemed tired, too “modern” sounding, a pale reflection of former glories. Variety conversely intriguingly contains some old (unreleased?) songs – “reworked treasures from Alig Fodder’s tape archive” is how the press release vaguely alludes to this – alongside some new compositions. Drive yourself bonkers trying to figure out which are which, but this collection has a lot of strong material, like the reggae-inflected ‘The Pain Won’t Go’, the 1980s Europop synth minimalism of ‘Love is Like a Goat’, the spiked nursery-rhyme malevolence of ‘Blue Puppies’, and the fractured madness of ‘Vampyre on my Mind’. And the pseudo-easy listening flamenco-jazz of ‘Hippy Bus To Spain’ with its tinkly piano, quotes from movie soundtracks, resembling an idealised track from a non-existent Herb Albert album. ‘The Moon Told Me So’ is also a glorious piece of songwriting, only slightly marred by the autotune on the vocals, which the skilled songstress clearly doesn’t require.
Which seems a good point to mention the wonderful vocal contributions of Mae Karthauser and Darlini Singh-Kaul, who bring a great deal of style, class and panache to the set. I’m reminded also of La Varieté, the 1982 album by Weekend, partially because Weekend emerged from Young Marble Giants, another post-punk band from roughly the same period as Family Fodder who had signed to Rough Trade. I think Weekend’s inspiration for the album title was based on their experience of listening to French radio stations, where you could find a much wider spectrum of musical styles (chanson, jazz, samba, pop) and hence a wider appeal to more age groups and tastes than BBC’s rotten old Radio One, which in the 1980s continued to force-feed us with chartbound pop garbage, mostly for the benefit of a teenager listenership. Alig’s take on Variety also shows a lot of continental influences, even when done slightly knowingly, but it’s something he’s always managed with considerable flair, ease, and humour – aided by his own considerable musical skills, which often get downplayed 1. What I always enjoyed about 1979’s ‘Playing Golf with my Flesh Crawling’ was how it took some fairly dark themes and put them into an irresistibly catchy pop framework with lots of hooks, riffs, and fascinating instrumental layers; in the lyrics, the singer was losing his mind, driven to suicide by the pressures of the family and the excesses of the acquisitive society around him, yet he sounded as cheery and bouncy as Boy George. This same schizophrenia, while somewhat diluted by time, is still a hallmark of Alig’s best songs, if this new album is anything to go by. Recommended!
- See the 1983 All Styles album for a tongue-in-cheek example of this; each song was identified with a user-friendly genre as part of the title, and playfully suggested Family Fodder could play everything from soul to disco to country and western. That album could almost have been the blueprint for Stereolab, who nicked a lot of Alig’s ideas. ↩