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Brighton Port Authority
I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat John Tatlock , March 20th, 2009 11:57

It's what we're doing when the, what we're doing when the, what we're doing when the Fat Boy's trippin'. It's what we're doing when the, what we're doing when the, what we're doing when the Fat Boy's trippin'. It's what we're doing when the, what we're doing when the, what we're doing when the Fat Boy's trippin'.

Norman Cook has not, to date, been a man who is afraid of repetition. Back once again. Back once again. Back once again with a new project, sharing equal billing with his regular sound engineer Simon Thornton, it's refreshing to note that Cook has made a fairly serious effort to avoid some of the clichés he's ridden into the ground under his Fatboy Slim alias. I only found one instance of the phrase-repeated-just-a-few-more-times-than-you-can-quite-tolerate trick, and only occasional excursions of the turn-down-the-treble-and-then-slowly-turn-it-back-up variety.

I Think We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat comes wrapped up in the conceit of being compiled from unreleased recordings of mythical 70s outfit BPA that were found in an abandoned dockland warehouse. There's little effort to make this idea remotely coherent, what with featuring guest stars who weren't even born in the 70s, and the rigidly 1995-2003 stylistic constraints of the actual music. But it's all a jolly good lark, and it would take a heart of stone to hold Cook's perma-grinning, office joker public persona against him.

I, fortunately, actually do have a heart of stone, and despite being a long time admirer of both Cook's DJing prowess, and his shameless and – more importantly – shame free party-oriented eclecticism, I long since ground my molars into dust with frustration at the increasing cheesiness of his recorded output. So leaving the BPA “concept” to one side – you plainly had to be there, and I am fairly glad I wasn't – the only question that matters is whether any of this tomfoolery has resulted in A Good Record. And by jove, by and large, it has. Plainly, no LP that opens with Iggy Pop drawling “He's got secular joy / he's a peculiar boy” on a cover of The Monochrome Set's 'He's Frank' can possibly be bad, and the first half turns out to be not only nearly all killer, but also pleasingly spiky and deranged.

The most surprising thing here, is the extent to which this is, at heart, an indie rock LP with a pre-Britpop heritage. Yes, made with samples and sequencers, but consisting of Proper Songs with verses and choruses and stuff, featuring guest stars from the hip side of obscurity and made with a frequent disregard for the dancefloor.

Semi-regular Cook collaborator Pete York turns in the lurching and profoundly un-danceable Dirty Sheets, which Connan Mockasin promptly out-weirds with 'Jump The Fence', a queasy concoction of Muppet Show backing vocals and spider's web guitar lines. This is followed by two tracks where Cook has persuaded a couple of his DJ mates to be guest vocalists. Ashley Beedle turns out to be the better singer, but his cod-ska 'Should I Stay Or Should I Blow' is a bit of boys-own screwing around that really should have stayed in that warehouse. Justin Robertson's 'Island', though, is an absolute revelation. Essentially Bowie's 'Teenage Wildlife' being covered by New Order, Robertson's elegiac delivery hammers his vocal limitations into irrelevance, as he croaks the pay-off line “if it all falls apart, will you say I'm just sentimental?” From a couple of blokes in their forties who've made a career out of playing dance records to drug guzzling crowds, it's a fairly startling and genuinely moving moment.

There is, however, something of a missed opportunity on this LP in that Cook has hardly anyone playing against type. The track with Iggy sounds like an Iggy record; the track with Jamie T sounds like a Jamie T record, and so on. Probably the only real juxtaposition here is the appearance of Dizzee Rascal in the middle of the David Byrne collaboration 'Toe Jam', which sounds exactly like a typically Latin brass-parping David Byrne record until Dizzee strides confidently out of his rhythmic comfort zone and starts banging on about getting pissed and pulling girls in a sleazy club somewhere. It's a great moment, both hilarious and surprising, and more of this would have certainly been welcome.

It's also the case that the featured vocalists are carrying a lot of the weight of this project, and when they fail to step up to the plate, the thinness of the BPA concept is left somewhat exposed. Olly Hite and Cagedbaby both appear on forgettable slices of whiteboy soul, and Martha Wainwright fails to find anything interesting to do with the basically pointless reggae-by-numbers 'Spade'.

It's probably unfair to blame them for this, but then Emmy The Great manages to drag a staggeringly gorgeous pop gem out of possibly the slightest musical backdrop of the album on 'Seattle'. Maybe Cook just needs to stick to collaborators who are a bit hungrier for it in future.

Still, while probably not destined for true classic status, this still a far better record than you might expect at this stage in Cook's career, and has an amiable catchiness that makes it the near inevitable soundtrack of most people's festival-bound car journeys this summer. Back once again indeed.