are is the sophomore record that makes you question why you liked the debut in the first place, but that's where my first listen to Generation led me.
Ego War was and is, I think, a great album; haunted by the memories of dead friends and weighed down with the quotidian, lazy day-to-day efforts of living with as little work as possible, it boasted some moments of surprisingly intense bitterness and sadness (“Face In A Cloud” trapping Joe Cocker in mourning, refusing to let him move forward) along with tales of sliding on life through charm and a single with one of the most glorious “What the faaaaaaauuuck!”s in modern music. Not only was it powerfully and unexpectedly emotionally complex, it sounded a bit like Mike Skinner with actual production behind him, drawing in garage, house and even big beat at times.
Generation keeps the production, but loses the core that made Ego War not just fun but touching, not just head-nodding but compelling. It's not that the Audio Bullys always need to tackle the territory they ranged over for their debut; but when their focus shifts to the strangely opaque territories of self-aggrandizement, it turns out that their music now sounds hollow instead of thrilling.
Repetition, sonically and lyrically, was a big part of their music from the start, but whereas a song like “The Things” could get away with having one line, here “I Won't Let You Down” seems impossibly uninspired. The harshly buzzing and beeping “Eq-ing” fares better thanks to production, but there's a good four or five other songs that fall into the same trap. “Made Like That” brings in Roots Manuva and Mr. Fox and gains some actual momentum, but the latter is dreadfully sub-Skinner and his idea of hilarity is rapping “I feel like Shipman” and slurring the word just enough that casual listeners may think he's saying “shit, man”.
Things do pick up a bit near the end; the combination of “Get Myself On Track” and “I'm In Love” injects some much needed sweetness both lyrically and musically. The problems of Generation are here revealed to be at least partly ones of selection and sequencing; shoving all the aggressive bluster to the front and saving the few gentler moments for the end destabilizes the album and makes the listener reluctant to get to the good stuff.
A record's sequencing is its personality; Ego War started with the cold “Snake” but quickly shifted to the ingratiating “100 Million” and continued to show both sides throughout the album, leaving you interested but not put off. Generation starts with a brief, meaningless intro and then the not-bad but totally impersonal Nancy Sinatra remix “Shot You Down.” It's more like that jerk you know who, if you could ever stand to spend time with him, would eventually reveal he's quite a nice guy. “Get Myself On Track” is a “Working For The Weekend” minus the bombast and plus a healthy chunk of self-doubt, one of Audio Bullys' strengths, and “I'm In Love” is unselfconscious and blissful. Even “Take You There” manages to merge the “we are hot shit” subject matter of many of the earlier tracks with an ultra-smooth backing (courtesy of Dr. Hook) and a lyrical stance that is more aspirational than oppositional (read: less shit-talking, more uplift). “This Road” even manages to draft in Suggs without killing the mood.
The end of Generation, then, could make a unexpectedly killer EP if you mix in a couple of the better tracks from the more astringent first part of the album. But the sloppy tracks and sloppy arrangement of those tracks suggest that Audio Bullys either didn't get what others found so interesting about Ego War or else that in the process of moving forward they've taken a few abortive steps backwards for every step forwards. This is nearly half of a really good follow up to their debut, but that first sequence of tracks is so lackluster, so full of swagger and bile meaning nothing, that fans may not get to the good stuff.