Audio Bullys released their debut album, Ego War, in mid-2003. Prior to this, they released a mix that was given away free with the now sadly defunct Muzik magazine. It was entitled Hooligan House: The Sound of 2003. We might now be pushing a decade on, but that description still holds up very well. Audio Bullys have constructed an entire career out of making rough, ham-fisted tracks to soundtrack the bashing of bus-stops, telephone boxes, and People Who Look at You Funny. Balls-to-the-wall bangers like “Hit the Ceiling” and “Shot You Down” prove that they have never pretended to be artistes. After all, who needs artistry when nightspots from Kingston-upon-Thames to Kavos are prepared to play your tunes on repeat for entire, seemingly endless, summers? Their lowest-common-denominator take on beat poetry is certainly hard to resist. It’s an even harder formula to argue with because it would have no trouble with giving you a punch in the jaw for your troubles.
Higher Than the Eiffel sees Audio Bullys continuing to commit to that formula, lurching from the massive aggressive (“Feel Alright”, “London Dreamer”) to lairy despair (“Dynamite”, “Drained Out”, “Dragging Me Down”). They haven’t grown up very much either, and they seem content to steal from the pick n’ mix and to get public order offences. Thus, they seem destined to live forever off the proceeds of 2005 single “Shot You Down”, trudging on long after the one hit wonder lustre has faded. Higher Than the Eiffel’s real standout, “Shotgun”, even sees them squeezing all they can get out of gun metaphors. This track, along with the rest of the album, keeps the basic aesthetic of their earlier material intact, but much of its commercial potential has gone, and they never honestly look like they will capitalise on it.
Indeed, Higher Than the Eiffel was released almost a year ago in the UK, and its lack of impact over here testifies to this. Nevertheless, the band stick to what they know, and to what their fans love: big, dumb, house beats with drunken soundbites shouted over the top. It remains a winning combination, sure, but we’ve heard it a million times before, and only touches of dub, northern soul, and an end-of-the-pier Wurlitzer on closer “Goodbye” hint at variety or musical maturation.
The problem here isn’t even that this album reactionary, refusing to look forward in order to relive an era of house music before the internet — before hyper-hybrid genre clashes and flexible consumption. No, it’s simply that we are living through a highly fertile period of musical innovation. Post-Dilla cinematics and post-dubstep architectonics are the two most obvious examples of this, and as a result of these developments, we expect just that little bit more from our producers than nifty sampling pasted over a 4/4 thump.
“Feel Alright” is the March of the Geezers, narrated by an imaginary, obnoxious nephew of Paul Weller. “Daisy Chains”, meanwhile, is a laboured ode to being high. It’s too try-hard, too adolescent, and it evokes an experience that is neither lush and psychedelic, nor jittering and paranoid – the twin peaks of the phenomenology of intoxication. Instead, it’s garish and rowdy, an unschooled struggle to paste Lupe Fiasco’s “Daydreaming” over “Yellow Submarine”.
Vocalist Simon Franks is no Mike Skinner. He’s no Shaun Ryder either. Consequently, his attempts to play the post-party sage pale in comparison to those tracks where the focus is on the dance-floor. And it’s certainly true that Higher Than The Eiffel contains some sizable club bangers like “Shotgun”, “Only Man”, and the drop-cum-chorus of “Smiling Faces”. Each track spills dizzying drunken power over thumping house, each a perfectly cretinous weekend mash-up.
Sadly, Higher Than the Eiffel’s redeeming features can’t prevent it from being utterly meaningless. Nevertheless, its bone-headedness is probably a benefit, recklessly cajoling us into enjoying ourselves. This is a house-party that plays banging tunes, sure, but it would be rude and dangerous to look like you’re not having a good time, or to leave early. Perhaps, then, the best advice would be to pinch a brewsky and to get involved.