There was once a time when Norman Cook ruled the world. Better Living Through Chemistry became a genre-defining classic for the big-beat craze in 1997, and his 1998 follow-up, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby, was even better, as Cook honed and expanded his sound and rocked a lot of parties (as well as commercials) in the process. But even then, six long years ago, the chinks in the armor were beginning to show. Cook’s reliance on a singular sample and a funk loop to drive his songs was becoming apparent, and predictably, it bit him in the ass when 2000’s forgettable Halfway between the Gutter and the Stars came along.
Our patience has already worn thin with Fatboy Slim. Big beat has come and gone, and listeners looking for something new won’t find it on Palookaville, Cook’s fourth proper album. Though Palookaville finds Cook slowing it down a bit, the sound hasn’t substantially changed. Now that his cheerful style has permeated every last cranny of culture, he’s painted himself right out of the picture. Is this the new Fatboy Slim album or is it a collection of tracks by random producers designed for Hyundai commercials? Outside of the high-profile guest appearances that once again populate Cook’s work, it’s pretty difficult to tell.
There are some noteworthy moments, however. Lateef the Truth Speaker (formerly of Latryx and current consort of Quannum Projects) appears on two tracks, pepping up the lounge-themed “Wonderful Night” with some great one-liners (“Our style’s fucking Posh like Dave Beckham”). Cook changes gears for the plodding twang of “The Journey,” combining a steady flow during the verses with some full-on crooning during the chorus that’s eerily reminiscent of Ben Harper. And although there was really no need to make a smooth funk cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” Bootsy Collins does a great job with the vocals, making it forgivable, if not listenable.
But past these songs, there’s not much to be rave about. Repetition has always been Fatboy’s thing, and here, it finally hits the point of absolute irritation. The lead single, “Slash Dot Dash,” repeats the line “Slash dot dash dot slash dot dash dot slash dot dash dot slash dot com” in various permutations, all of which encourage me to jam a screwdriver into my ear. Maybe, just maybe, if this song had been on Better Living (back before everything on this planet had been dot-commed), it might not be quite as infuriating. But you could say that about seventy-five percent of the tracks here, which could easily be outtakes from Fatboy’s first two albums. It all makes for an upbeat but dated sound.
Big beat essentially relied on a simple formula: catchy sample or two, big-ass beat, foot-stomping bass line, and maybe a siren or two. And only the Chemical Brothers did it better than Fatboy Slim. But times have changed, and the formula has not. We’ve heard it before, and frankly, we’re getting tired of it. When it can feasibly soundtrack a tampon commercial, it’s time for the ol’ heave-ho. Count your money and have your fun, Mr. Cook, but we’ve moved on. Big beat is dead; long live big beat.