When the Fun Loving Criminals call an album ‘Living In The City’, they are not talking about Wigan. Much like the Beastie Boys, they are and always have been about New York. They were self modelled cartoon gangsters; musical Goodfellas who played cards, chased women and smoked blunts to a sharp suited mix of hip hop and blues. Several years and several hundred ‘scooby snacks’ later they are in a slightly more reflective mood.
This is the home coming album after a franky embarrassing period where Huey et al swapped wry tales in the boroughs for speed boats and smaltsy Miller adverts. Back on dry land, it’s all about re finding inspiration from the streets when they are clearly very edgy and jaded by the parties that they led to. What we get is a sort of cross between the playfulness of their first two albums and a Fun Lovin’ Criminals version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On’.
Title track, I Love Livin’ In The City starts off on positive form like the hedonists tourist board, all honking cab samples, aplomb beats and late night bar guitars. But before we rush for the airport, How it Be has them banging on the piano and moaning about the things they see when out dog walking. With a treacle thick croon , Huey laments, “You don’t know what I see when I walk my dog at four in the morning”. The image of him walking a dog in the twilight hours is perhaps more shocking than anything he’s likely to see. One step removed from the party, it is a mature outing of early 70s soul rather than cheeky breaks.
It becomes clear that over the years they have learned as many musical styles as ways of getting onto celebrity guests lists. At turns it’s out and out rock, honky tonk blues and even Ska on That Ain’t Right. Similarly, the mood flits between party lust, social commentary and battles with inner demons. The man who once gleefully rapped about “super models on his d” takes a pop at the Patriot Act and the Bush Administration on Gave Up On God. The dilemma is best summarised on the fraught Where Do I Begin with lines like “I smile at the girls but I feel dead inside”.
This is not to say that they are about to tie concrete weights around their lounge suits and leap into the Hudson. All the bitterness and anxiety is wrapped up in big, grizzly bear hug of enduring enthusiasm for city life. The tempo may have come down but it is far from out . In fact, it feels more like they are crawling out from a prolonged stint in the gutter and brushing off the dirt. Where they’ll go next is anyone’s guess.
They may have toned down the criminal angle but back in Manhattan they are still loving the fun.