Are We Having Fun Yet?

"Scooby Snacks" was the hit from their debut album, Come Find Yourself ('96).

I imagine that the Fun Lovin' Criminals are a lot like the type of

guys that hang at this great bar here in Milwaukee called Foundation.

They have a fondness for working-class uniforms (say, a Pabst Blue

Ribbon delivery-man suit) but they wear them with distance, even though

some of them may very well make their livings as Pabst Blue Ribbon

delivery men. A blood clot under the thumbnail is as totemic a tribal

mark as a Prince Albert or a "tribal" tattoo. And the music they dig

centers on the more boyish genres of punk, rockabilly, honky-tonk and

select others. The Foundation walls sweat testosterone.

Yet not oppressively so (which is why some women and a few gay folks go

there). These guys are like MC Lyte's actin'-like-he-don't-care

ruffneck, only a tad more bear-huggable and considerably more arty. The

right, er, person can get to the "aw shucks" core underneath.

Of course, this profile isn't a 100 percent Cinderellian fit for Fun

Lovin' Criminals. These sharp-dressed men are more urbane than the

average Foundation boy (even dropped Manhattan club lord Peter Gatien's

name on their debut to show off their roots in NYC nightlife). Still,

they didn't buy a haute couture boutique in Soho with their first taste

of major-label money; they bought a garbage company that now has 18

people on the payroll. I like that -- it perfectly gets at their

everyman refusal to avoid singing about doing time and supermodels on

their D, the subject of the first single, the

blaxploitationesque "Big Night Out."

That's the "criminals" part. The "fun lovin'," more sensitive side is

much more in evidence here than on the first album. It's all over the

languorous flow of the beats and the way Huey's raps snuggle real

sexy-like in your earlobe. "We Are All Very Worried About You" and "The

View Belongs To Everyone" shower the listener in heart-felt empathy, the

latter's new-day rising feel particularly gorgeous with its vaguely

Frippy guitar swirls. "Sugar" is neither an ode to Bob Mould nor to Sheena

Easton's "walls" but rather a love song to his pit bull. Their hero BB

King plays on "Mini Bar Blues," but their worship of him is so intense

that they had to send the tapes to him in Chicago. Otherwise, they would

have "just been crying on the mixing console and shorting everything

out," according to Huey. Aw, cute!

But, sadly, 100% Colombian is yet another record that I admire a

great deal but that my superego demands I downgrade nonetheless. I can

only go so far with these boys. Beyond our mutual love of music, there's little reason to invite them or their music into my life on a regular basis. Whatever

charms they possess in laid-back, sensual feel, they lack in melody and

catchiness -- and melody and catchiness is what gets my lazy ass up in

the afternoon. Plus, they need a much more intricate beat to match the

energy of their speedier songs, and there are too few of the latter here

to make up for their rhythmic shortcomings.

So while the Fun Lovin' Criminals fit in with the rest of the boys at

Foundation, their music is a tad too cushy to get heavy rotation in the

Foundation jukebox (a great one with Black Flag and The New York Dolls

on it, although some patrons got pissed when we played "Shout At The

Devil" once). But it says something that the Criminals' music does get

played at another bar here called -- surprise! -- Cush. Cush is a

typically misguided Milwaukee abomination of seat cushions (that word

again!) with no backs and zilch imagination on the walls. The girls look

like hair-care professionals and wear leather pants. But the boys ... ugh!

They're as bland as white rice with their neatly tucked-in

flannels and brown sensible shoes that handle well in the snow but still

look a la mode. As befits this conservatively hip surrounding, acid jazz

and hippety-hoppety white guys like G. Love and Special Sauce get

streamlined into a bland bop background that suggests a safe haven from

gangsta rap and uncut funk. Unfortunately, Fun Lovin' Criminals get

caught up in the stream quite easily when the right track from Fine

Young Cannibals, TLC, Fun Boy Three, Funkadelic, Fairport Convention,

First Choice, Jeffrey Fredericks & The Clamtones and "Funky Cold Medina"

(though not Frampton's Camel) would upset

the flow honorably, and that's just to mention music that prominently

features an "F" or "C." And if I could mention more than just Foundation

and Cush in relation to 100% Colombian (and Milwaukee), I suppose

I wouldn't be complaining at all.