’ve always been willing to cut Fatboy Slim a little bit more slack than most. There’s a lot of people out there who see Norman as everything that’s wrong with electronic music—perhaps tied with Paul Oakenfold and Moby for the most vilified figure in the genre today, for his flashy videos, commercial over-exposure and dumbed-down dance music meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But I find it hard to hate when he really made some extremely enjoyable music—“Everybody Needs a 303,” “Going Out of My Head,” “Gangsta Trippin’,” and even “The Rockafella Skank” and its infinite number of remixes. These singles might not have pushed the envelope—in fact you could even argue that they set dance music back years—but they were damn fun while they lasted.
You do have to give Fatboy credit for staying alive and even a tiny bit relevant while all of his big beat peers were falling off the face of the earth, though. This had more than a little bit to do with a Mr. Spike Jonze and his clever, endlessly watchable music videos for “Praise You” and “Weapon of Choice”—the latter one of the biggest winners in Video Music Award history—but if the music wasn’t so catchy and loveable, the videos still would’ve gone nowhere. And though the last album might not have been perfect, it did also have what undoubtedly is Fatboy’s finest moment to date, the ten-minute house anthem “Song for Shelter”, whose redemptive power was so awesome that it almost saved Larry Clark’s inconceivably atrocious film Bully simply by gracing the last scene.
So perhaps my hopes for Palookaville were higher than they should have been. I knew everyone else would think it was awful, but I hoped that at least I could find another “Song for Shelter” or even to find that, as always, he isn’t quite as intolerable as everyone says. Unfortunately, Palookaville really is as bad as you’d probably expect, and regrettably deserves to be written off as surely as you most likely did before even reading this review.
The parallels with The Prodigy’s similarly dreadful Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned abound, but the difference here is where The Prodigy’s album was just offensively bad at every corner, here Norman Cook seems to be striving to make the most mediocre album humanly possible. None of the songs are particularly bad (well, maybe lead single “Slash Dot Dash,” but that’s more of a virtue of its bizarrely outdated “the internet r0x0rz!’ hook than any extremely poor musicianship), but none of them even come close to good, either. And like The Prodigy, Fatboy piles on the guest vocalists in an attempt to divert the audience from the lack of hooks—we’ve got Lateef, Damon Albarn, and Bootsy Collins (on the album-closing cover of “The Joker”, the closest thing to a notable song here), but damned if any of ‘em make the slightest difference.
Since Norman Cook never really faded from public consciousness the way The Prodigy did, it’s possible that when he notices the lack of critical attention or crossover hits (nothing here, Spike Jonze video or not, has the slightest chance of US airplay) he’ll realize he can’t ride the coattails of previous successes forever and he’ll shape up. And if so, great, no hard feelings—after all, this album isn’t really that terrible. But, with the end of this sentence and review, I’m quite definitely going to hit “stop” on my CD player, and never ever feel the need to listen to Palookaville again.
Reviewed by: Andrew Unterberger
Reviewed on: 2004-10-13