When "Like the Rest of Us", the first track on Atmosphere's latest release When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers), arrives at your eardrums, you expect to hear the very articulate and highly emotional intensity that Slug and Ant are known for. Instead you get resignation. The stories about broken people, down on their luck, and Slugs personal struggles are all still there. However, this time they're told from the perspective of people who have accepted their position in life and have stopped dreaming of a better future for themselves.
Gone are the soul samples and hard-hitting drumbeats and enter pianos, rhodes, synths, guitars and bass. Maybe Ant wanted to go in a different direction production wise (a direction probably assisted by sampling lawsuits), but whatever the case, the sound of Lemons perfectly suits Slugs lyrical delivery; not very remarkable but competent enough to get you to pay attention.
From the opening track to songs like "Can't Break" and "Me," Slug shows love for the bird metaphor. Let me fly away /heaven wont wait, you can try to fix my broken wings, can't save a nest egg...you get the point. Sometimes listening to an Atmosphere album is an exercise in redundancy, but the reflective music featured in the piano-led "The Waitress" and the possible Bill Cosby favorite "In Her Music Box" (a song about a father listening to gangsta' rap while his daughter is in the backseat) distracts you from said redundancy.
Slug, while not a lyrical genius, is an extremely gifted storyteller. He works the 'you are there' angle very well as evident on "Your Glasshouse," depicting a woman waking up in a strangers bed with a bad hangover: "and everything still spins/and then the chills begin/and then the god please kill me now hitsstandin up brings out the stars/and the whole bathroom smells like a dive bar." Slug's calm delivery makes the picture he paints all the more vivid. Lemons is an album meant to be listened to at home sitting on the love seat with a beer in your hand, accepting that this is all there is and looking forward to an hour of hearing an artist confirm your outlook.
While there are those who will see this turn in Ant and Slug's recording career as a sign of maturity, and it just might be, its possible that their fan base might go somewhere else for their self-loathing, now that the anger is gone from Atmosphere's music. - stephon johnson