Like the rest of you, I was shocked and horrified when Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook suffered a debilitating head injury in 2003. It's always sad when a loved and respected artist falls victim to --
Hey, wait a minute! Norman Cook never injured his head! So what the fuck went wrong with Palookaville?
Fatboy Slim's repetitive, sample-heavy approach was fine during the Big Beat era, when mind-numbing, mantra-like repetition was all part of the fun. Now, in an effort to expand beyond the Extreme Sports production bed market, he has annexed a little corner of rock 'n' roll and populated it with odd, mostly failed experiments -- unholy alliances of hip-hop, seventies country-funk-rock, turntable scratching and half-hearted beats. It's like a Santana/Soup Dragons collaboration without the laughs: songs too slow to dance to and too annoyingly repetitive for passive listening.
Fortunately, once you get past "Don't Let the Man Get You Down", you're past the worst of it. Perhaps you've heard this one -- it's the track with the sample from 5 Man Electric Band's "Signs", pitched up to the point of cartoonishness, repeated endlessly over mid-tempo beats and digital stutters. It's boring, goes nowhere, and will annoy you every step of the way. What's more, without that crappy central sample -- the one that goes "And the sign said 'Long-haired freaky people need not apply" -- there's no song. Say what you like about Cook's body of work, but you can take the "Funk Soul Brother" out of "Rockafeller Skank" and still have something interesting left. That's not the case here.
Similarly, "Slash Dot Dash" is almost entirely dependent upon its titular sample, though the (borrowed?) vocal is faster and more aggressive, with an Ian Duryish texture that makes the tune more tolerable. "Wonderful Night" has no such luck -- between its goofy, schizophrenic rhythm track and guest vocalist Lateef's sing-song rap, it sounds like a sub-par montage track from a forgotten summer teen flick. If Lenny Kravitz, Steve Miller, Scott Stapp and Elvis Costello were ground up and reconstituted as a single dense, schizophrenic homunculus, that creature might perpetrate "Put It Back Together"'s tiresome crusty psych-funk, but it's actually Damon Albarn doing the vocals -- and that's why he'll be first up against the wall when the revolution comes, you wait and see. And if you smoke pot at least two hours a day, every day, there's finally a dance track designed just for you: it's called "The Journey", and it moves with the lazy non-urgency of pity sex.
There are a few bright spots here: "Me Bebé Masoquista" sustains a powerful, interesting rhythm for most of its four and a half minutes, while showing laudable restraint in the "let's beat the vocal sample into the ground" department. "Jin Go Lo Ba" parlays its sampled chant into dense, seething, almost flawless ethnotechno -- and as such, sounds almost exactly like a 12" single I bought fourteen years ago. "Long Way From Home" could be Underworld's bastard child from a one-night stand with late-nineties Britpop.
Sadly, Cook squanders his meagre ration of goodwill in spectacular fashion: he covers Steve Miller's execrable "The Joker", and drags poor Bootsy Collins down with him. Imagine this playing over the closing credits of a shitty Ben Stiller "uptight guy" comedy...in February. Yeah, it's that bad.
Dear Mr. Cook: please stop. Thank you.