It's hard to believe that the frontman responsible for the expletive-laden debut Come Find Yourself, a heady mix of rap-rock party anthems and lyrics centering around recreational drug use and organized crime, would go on to become an honorary British national treasure. But 14 years after bursting onto the scene with the Tarantino-sampling "Scooby Snacks," Fun Lovin' Criminals' Huey Morgan has become an unlikely regular fixture in the U.K. media, fronting his own show on BBC 6Music, appearing in Wigan Casino movie Soul Boy, and bizarrely, hosting a TV program with Liza Tarbuck based on celebrities and their pets. Five years after 2005's Livin' in the City, Morgan, Fast, and Frank, return -- following a series of bitter legal wrangles with their former manager -- with their sixth studio release, Classic Fantastic, self-described as "the first party album of the decade." But apart from a guest appearance from grime rapper Roots Manuva on the funk-laden "Keep On Yellin'" and "Conversations with Our Attorney" a brief two-minute profanity-fueled skit featuring Dennis Pennis creator Paul Kaye, their newfound acceptance from their trans-Atlantic cousins hasn't really influenced its 13 tracks. Indeed, their first release through their own Kilohertz label continues to peddle their trademark, tongue in cheek, New York gangster persona: a source of derision in their homeland, but one which has been embraced by European audiences willing to share "The Sopranos-goes jazz-funk" joke on tracks like "We, The Three" (a combination of "Superstition"-esque squelchy electronic chords and retro-brass hooks) and "El Malo" (a chilled-out blend of sultry basslines, pan pipes, and Jimi Hendrix-style guitar solos). But besides their usual hazy stoner shtick, the trio also incorporate a wider array of influences to produce perhaps their most varied and eclectic record to date. "The Originals" fuses Limp Bizkit-style nu-metal beats and crunching rock riffs with whooping old-school hip-hop samples and a raucous singalong chorus, "Rewind" sees Morgan attempting his best Barry White impersonation against a backdrop of trippy prog rock atmospherics and twinkling R&B, and "Mars" is a robotic electro-funk number which recalls the body-popping grooves of Daft Punk's last album. Best of all is the title track, which combines Arrested Development-ish guitar licks, '70s-inspired strings, and a carnival brass symphony to create an infectious sun-soaked classic. The likes of "How Low" and "Get Your Coat" are Fun Lovin' Criminals by numbers, while "Jimi Choo" is a chaotic and misguided attempt at skittering drum'n'bass. But despite their messy behind-the-scenes troubles and the lack of a genuine hit in ten years, Morgan and co. have produced an album which could possibly show their detractors that there's more to them than their Goodfellas pastiche reputation.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien