I suppose that, at some point, all musicians feel the need to do something clever to diffuse potential criticism. Be it a lyric of a song or the title of an album, artists have a long history of this sort of behavior. Case in point: Fatboy Slim’s greatest-hits collection. It’s coyly titled Why Try Harder, and its cover features a crappy still of Christopher Walken from the “Weapon of Choice” video. Norman Cook is obviously trying to make a statement. “Don’t criticize me,” he’s saying. “The music is so good that I don’t need to spend time putting this best-of package together.”
The music now sounds dated, with its big-beat trappings, but there’s a reason Cook became the biggest deejay in America during our short-lived obsession with dance music — he’s good at it. “The Rockafeller Skank” is a catchy piece of pop music, as are his remixes of Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” and Groove Armada’s “I See You Baby.” So it’s logical to compile these scattered pieces on a single disc. But here are the problems: thrown-together packaging, terrible running order and, most important, a lack of variety. Instead of naming this half-assed effort Why Try Harder, he should have titled it Why Buy This Record.
Plenty of tracks could have been excluded from this disc, had organizers not gone the “include all the singles” route. Take “Slash Dot Dash,” the first single from the painful Palookaville album. Its dreadful, repetitive vocal was bad enough the first time. It didn’t sell any records, and it doesn’t’ demonstrate any dramatic evolution in the Fatboy sound. Why revisit such a misstep? Its inclusion only makes Why Try Harder dryer and more boring.
Had Cook opted for a route more similar to, say, R.E.M.’s In Time compilation, the disc wouldn’t have needed to sound like non-stop big-beat. Some of his finest moments — “Love Island,” “Acid 8000,” “Retox,” “Put It Back Together,” or his remix of Beastie Boys’ “Body Movin'” — are not included here. Cook is not a one-trick pony, but Why Try Harder doesn’t prove that. This package is for the uninitiated or for those who couldn’t be bothered to dig a little deeper to find the better material. Our bargain bins are inundated with lousy best-of discs. Why try harder? The real question is, Why not try harder?
Artist: (streaming audio): http://www.fatboyslim.net/
Label: http://astralwerks.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/fatboyslim