Fun Lovin' Criminals

Welcome to Poppy's

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Fun Lovin' Criminals are the sound of cigarettes being lit. Ever since England embraced the New York band as its own, the Criminals have tailored their sound like you would a good suit -- tweaking the seams of the grooves for continued late-night appeal. Sly frontman Huey's bedroom voice slithers with a threatening tone; you can't trust this handsome criminal, but damn does he throw great parties. Similarly, most of Welcome to Poppy's is like watching a 1968 Lincoln Continental drive by in slow motion -- nice and easy, and ultra cool. If this is all starting to sound like the treatment for Guy Ritchie's next East End crime caper, then the Criminals have likely done their job. "Stray Bullet" sells the same street-level politics as Moby's "South Side," but sexes it up with the disco thump of Stereo MC's' "Connected." "Lost it All" stylizes East Coast hardcore by marrying its gritty guitar aggression to more calculated whispering from Huey -- that this is successful at all proves the instrumental chops that stabilize FLC's affected veneer. They run confidently through '70s softcore love rock, sample Das EFX and Whodini, and cop the talking blues of Lou Reed's New York for "Steak Knife." Of course, crime doesn't always pay -- Welcome to Poppy's is at least five songs too long. "This Sick World" is uncomfortably preachy after the hedonism of the album's first half, and when a couple of closing ballads try to prove again that every thug needs a lady, the results are more awkward than Saturday night's leather pants on a sunny Sunday morning. As with 1998's 100% Colombian, Fun Lovin' Criminals are much more successful when they're selling their city's excess and possibilities. Even if their product is partly parody, it's attractive for squares. The atmospheric "Friday Night" might be the best example on Welcome to Poppy's. Suggestively funky and slightly soulful, the track shimmers like neon in the fresh rain as Huey describes his typical night out. "We don't wait on the line, we don't pay for the drinks," he says. "Y'all can't mess with us 'cause where you never been I'm in."

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