Pop: Life's a blag for those blue-collar bandits

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The Independent Culture
WHEN THE Fun Lovin' Criminals first appeared, back in 1996, their ambitions seemed not to stretch beyond the hope of appearing on the soundtrack of a second-rate Tarantino flick. Consider the evidence: not only did their infectious breakthrough single, "Scooby Snacks", make armed robbery sound like the only civilised way to enjoy a spliff; it even sampled Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, those sacred texts of Nineties cool.

It'd be churlish, though, to say that the Criminals just peddled a musical reworking of Quentin's outlaw chic. Like that other East Coast white-boy rap act, G-Love & Special Sauce, the New York group had unearthed a potentially rich musical seam - catchy urban blues delivered with a hip hop sensibility and a dollop of Goodfellas attitude.

Whatever you called the result, it was strictly for export, however. The Criminals' debut album, Come Find Yourself, went on to sell a respectable 400,000 copies in the UK but only around 300,000 back home, proportionally a big difference. The trio have every reason, then, to thank their British fans, which they did, over and over again, at the Brixton Academy.

Perhaps this indebtedness has prompted the Criminals to go "legit". The convertible car, wiseguy smirks and beenie hats have gone, replaced by a cocktail-bar snug, lounge-lizard suits and coiffed hair. As was apparent at the Academy, though, the upwardly mobile threads can't hide the Criminals' blue-collar instincts. The lounge-music raps, "Love Unlimited" (a straight- faced tribute to the spiritual healing powers of Barry White) and "We Are All Very Worried About You", bring a rat-pack, cheesey class to their new album, 100% Colombian, but was underpowered for the venue.

The audience had turned up for the Criminals' characteristic laddy singalongs, and "The Fun Lovin' Criminal", the group's signature tune, plus "Scooby Snacks" and "Korean Bodega", more than delivered on that account. And the band didn't seem fazed that the first album's pub rap went down far better than the second's more polished fare. The less fashionable the show tried to be, the more fun the Criminals had.

The three of them can't have headlined many gigs as large as the Academy, and they looked as if they were all too well aware that this might be as big as it gets. As a result, their affectionate rendition of "We Have All the Time in the World" sounded more like a joke at their own expense than bragging.

They were right to savour the evening. The Fun Lovin' Criminals won't often land blags as easy as this one: it was like taking candy from a baby.

Mike Higgins