Fatboy Slim Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars

Being a fan of Norman Cook's pop perfectionism from the very first Beats International release, I was hoping to greet this album with open arms. Instead, I hated it on first listen, finding the sounds flat and unimaginative. Cook, regardless of which pseudonym he's recorded under, has always been at the very tip of new dance music trends. Halfway Between... finds him coasting, dishing up weak big beat, à la "Ya Mama" and "Mad Flava," two tracks that, granted, old school Fatboy fans may expect. Worse still are the annoying, repetitive "Star 69," a trance-y track sounding like sub sub-par Underworld, and the first single, "Sunset (Bird of Prey)," where Cook samples the vocals of Jim Morrison and places them in an ethereal trance context. The results are sadly undramatic. That said, a few listens in and I've grown to appreciate many of the other moments and songs. "Weapon of Choice" is a fun, funky space-pop collaboration with Bootsy Collins. Even stronger are Cook's collaborations with vocalist Macy Gray, "Love Life" and "Demons," respectively. The former is sexy, thick and funky, tipping its hat to Prince in more than one way. The latter is incredible and is easily the best track on this album. Mr. Slim beautifully samples Bill Withers, serving up soulful, delicate, carefully distorted sounds that create the perfect backdrop for Gray's distinct voice and outpouring of emotion. Cook also knows how to end an album, here going out with "Song For Shelter," a tribute to both the club Shelter and to house music. The preacher-like sampled vocals of Roland Clarke speaks of the ecstasy in losing yourself on the dance floor, capturing the rapture, heart and soul of club culture. It's a stunning close to a mediocre album, speaking volumes about where Norman Cook is happiest - in the mix, rather than the spotlight. (Astralwerks)