I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
The Brighton Port Authority, 2009
Southern Fried Records
Running Time: 42:18
3 out of 5 stars
I’m not sure what it is about electronic music that compels its artists to always be inventing new aliases for themselves. I could probably make up almost any sort of answer and it would sound plausible; in reality though, it probably just stems from the rejection of “rockstarism” that’s prevalent in club scenes. In other words, you can’t get overly famous if you keep changing your name.
It also helps if you invent a fictional band with a made-up backstory. This is the case with The Brighton Port Authority, a new alias for Norman Cook, the DJ better known as Fatboy Slim (along with a cacophony of guest vocalists ranging from Iggy Pop to David Byrne). The group debuted on the Internet last with a video for the song “Toe Jam” (which features Byrne, along with British rapper Dizzee Rascal)—one that features censored nude dancers who form words and symbols with their black censor bars—and, as of today, February 3rd, debuted their full-length album I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat (a reference to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, for anyone keeping score).
The album comes in rather unassuming packaging that identifies the copyright date as “1971-2009” and devotes the entirety of the booklet to the rather long and convoluted story of the group—a bit of fiction that reads like a parody of the self-important Behind the Music-style notes that come with “special edition” CD reissues. Apparently, The Brighton Port Authority can be traced to a warehouse in East Sussex, and consisted of a loose conglomeration of artists, many of whom refused to record on equipment that wasn’t painted mauve. The rest, as they say, is history (obviously).
The credits conclude with “ALL TRACKS RECORDED BY NORMAN COOK AND SIMON THORNTHON SOMETIME DURING THE 70’s.”
Okay, but enough about the back-story. Is the music good? It’s my job to inform you that it’s thoroughly average. The music contained herein displays the same goofy-and-slightly-anarchic sense of humor that we’ve come to expect from Fatboy Slim, plus the same sort of devil-may-care cut-and-paste attitude that tend to go along with the genre, with the major difference being that this one features vocalists much more prominently than most Slim tracks.
In fact, every song here credits at least one guest vocalist. The upshot is that while much of Cook’s earlier work was content to remain within the domain of general club music, this one appears to be intended as more of a straight-up pop album, with an emphasis on production. Unfortunately, there’s only about three songs here that have particularly memorable pop hooks: “Seattle” (an ironic dreampop ode to America that features British singer-songwriter Emmy the Great), “Superman” (yet another depressing lament about how the singer isn’t the quintessential superhero, featuring Simon Thornton), and “So It Goes” (an upbeat, gospel-influenced number that stars underground pop singer Olly Hite).
These three songs are the sort that get stuck in your head, forcing you to listen to them over and over—in other words, they’re all you could ask for as far as pop songs go—but the problem is that they make everything else on the album sound a little too much like filler. Even this wouldn’t be so bad, if Cook’s production was memorable, but that’s only the case on about half the songs. Frankly, most of the genre references are a bit too obvious for an ostensibly 70’s-themed album: the Ramones-style punk chords of Iggy Pop’s “He’s Frank,” the Bob Marley-esque reggae of Martha Wainright’s “Spade,” the obvious references to The Clash in “Should I Stay or Should I Blow” (sung by Ashley Beedle). To make things worse, the production is (strangely) a bit on the dry side, which makes things sound somewhat bottomless (which is definitely a problem in this genre).
Admittedly, a lot of this is on the side of nitpicking. Truth be told, I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat is far from being a bad album. There’s really much to like here, and repeated listens will doubtless reveal what’s good about the weaker tracks. The upshot, though is this: those who already appreciate Cook will enjoy Bigger Boat, but it’s unlikely to convert many non-fans.
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