It doesn't take a great deal of scrutiny to tell that the title of Atmosphere's fifth album, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, is meant with deep sarcasm. The first clue would be the cover image of frontman Slug slumped in a folding chair in a dingy backstage room, cigarette dangling from his right hand, staring balefully at the camera as if he's wondering how the hell things got this bad.
It's the perfect illustration of the lyrics inside, as Slug slugs it out with demons personal, political, and otherwise, expressing shock and rage over the 2003 murder of a fan in "That Night" and suspicion over the widespread use of antidepressants in "Panic Attack," as well as more prosaic denunciations of hipper-than-thou fans in "Watch Out" ("We all love a clown, but we don't want to see you climb up from the underground"). His most devastating attacks are directed inward, with lines like "You remind me of me—that's not a compliment" and the endearingly unguarded, album-closing letter to his son, "Little Man."
This all could have been a drag in the hands of a rapper with less self-awareness or sense of humor, or without access to the deft production skills of Atmosphere beatmaster Ant, Slug's longtime creative partner and the secret weapon of Atmosphere's Minnesota-based Rhymesayers hip-hop collective. But Slug has a way of drawing out the universal in the intensely personal, and his gaze into the mirror reveals two faces: his and ours.