Music

Slowthai, Fat White Family, Mac Demarco and a history of bad teeth in music

As Shane MacGowan proves, a musician having dodgy dentistry signifies a certain quintessence of uncaring. Malcolm Jack pays tribute to a new group of artists whose teeth leave something to be desired

A few years ago Shane MacGowan got new teeth, and while few could question the good wisdom of a man with a smile like a post-apocalyptic skyline belatedly getting his mouth sorted out, equally it was hard not to feel like rock’n’roll lost a little something under the harsh glare of the dentist’s lamp during that gruelling nine-hour procedure.

Chronicled Monkey Tennis-style by Sky Arts in the 2015 documentary Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn, The Pogues frontman’s orthodontic odyssey, likened by experts to climbing the “Everest of dentistry”, saw not only one of the most legendary hellmouths and monuments to excess in all of music at last conquered, but equally one of its most reckless souls finally checked. “We’ve effectively retuned his instrument and that will be an ongoing process,” said intrepid dental surgeon Darragh Mulrooney, of the uncertain effect new teeth might have on MacGowan’s signature rasping gummy voice. The civilising changes it will have brought over him can’t have ended there.

If decadent rock’n’rollers can’t get away without brushing before bed now and again, then what hope for the rest of us?

Don’t get me wrong – I am a firm advocate of good dental hygiene and regular check-ups, and in no way seek to glamourise the chronic habits which can cause or exacerbate a bad gob. Yet I find there to be something strangely reassuring about dodgy teeth in a musician, especially in this Instagram-vain age when even the most lo-fi of new artists seem to emerge with implausibly perfect bleached and straightened pearly whites. A blackened, crooked sneer or a spacious grin embodies a grand clapped-out tradition in music – a certain quintessence of uncaring. If decadent rock’n’rollers can’t get away without brushing before bed now and again, then what hope for the rest of us?

Which is one, admittedly quite peripheral, reason among many why Fat White Family – a band whose guitarist and sometimes lead vocalist Saul Adamczewski requires two upper-middle incisors apparently about as much he needs to give two fucks thank you very much – remain a vital force. Newly signed to Domino Records and on the rise from squat-dwelling roots, their new album Serfs Up! sees the scuzz-rocking Londoners deliver more dispatches from down the bin chute of life, now with added queasy electronic beats and death-disco synths. From the ominous Feet to the menacing Tastes Good With The Money (watch below), the Fat Whites remain defiantly unflossed.

And I’m encouraged to report that a dentist-swerving lineage in music – stretching all the way from Keith Richards through Mick Jones to Shaun Ryder and beyond (it’s always the men, make of that what you will) – doesn’t stop there. Granted, much of it’s down to his penchant for sporting gangsta-style gold grills, but Northampton rapper Slowthai is a newly emerging advocate for, among other things, faintly unnerving gnashers. Set to release his debut album Nothing Great About Britain next month, the East Midlands’ answer to ODB’s state-of-the-nation bangers, equal parts grime and punk, take a bite at the poisonous politics and toxic patriotism of the Brexit era, and promise to make him a name on everyone’s lips before the year’s out.

Canadian slacker-indie cult hero Mac DeMarco meanwhile finds himself among glamorous company including Madonna and Seal in the gap-toothed musicians club, which seems wholly improbable when you consider he’s a self-styled, ahem, “jizz-jazz” man whose chaotic, firmly post-watershed early live shows once saw him shove a drumstick up another, shall-we-say more intimate gap about his person while singing a cover of U2’s Beautiful Day (Google it at your peril). The British Columbia-born purveyor of whacked-out insouciance’s fourth album Here Comes The Cowboy finds the link you never knew was missing between Beat Happening, Steely Dan and Bill Hicks. DeMarco apparently thought about getting braces as a kid, “but you learn to love yourself,” he says – a heart-warming lesson for us all about body-positivity and self-acceptance. At least until he’s rich and famous enough to hire Shane MacGowan’s dental surgeon and get his own Sky Arts documentary, anyway.

Fat White Family’s new album Serfs Up! (Domino), April 19

Mac DeMarco’s new album Here Comes The Cowboy (Mac’s Record Label), May 10

Slowthai’s debut album Nothing Great About Britain (Method), May 17

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