Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Album from Three Weeks Ago: Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars by Fatboy Slim

Quick, name the sources that influenced your taste in music the most. I am not talking bands or albums, I am talking who or what introduced you to them. Did you say the SSX or Tony Hawk game series? No? Well in that case you are either too old/young to know what I am talking about or you failed at having a childhood. Those games had a profound effect on my relationship with music today. Since music is one of the main passions in my life, I owe them and similar sources a great deal of thanks.

The seeds of my music obsession were sown throughout my childhood. My mom had the radio tuned to a classic rock station every time we got in the car. Through the radio and my mom, I gained a deep back knowledge of all classic rock. I couldn’t tell you who sang what; I thought Led Zeppelin was a person for years. But you could play almost any song from before I was born and I would not only know it, but know half the lyrics. I had the knowledge, but I had yet to get the music bug.

In sixth grade, I was on a ski trip with my school. During the long ride, my classmate John Livecchi played Stairway for Heaven for me on his iPod. I knew the song, but I had never actually listened to what was going on, up till that point I had only, as I like to say, “consumed” music. My mind was completely blown. I went back home and started listening to everything I could get my hands on. I suddenly realized that all they were so much more than a just catchy chorus, and more importantly, that there were things called bands with their own distinct style (I was an idiot). Suddenly my world was filled with Queen, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, and the Beatles. I got my first iPod and I was hooked.

Yet falling in love with classic rock was also a curse. Like many die hard classic rock fans, my mind closed down. I refused to accept or even listen to any other genres or bands. Rap was unmusical garbage that liked to rip off classic rock riffs, electronic music was the same except with more beeps and bloops, pop music was all Britney Spears, and metal was just people screaming. By not opening up to new bands, my taste in music stagnated.

Fortunately I encountered Tony Hawk/SSX before I completed my wall. The games forced me to listen to music that I normally wouldn’t. I was introduced to punk via the Ramones, alt-rock via Queens of the Stone Age, metal via Metallica, and most importantly, electronic music via Fatboy Slim. I made up excuses as to why I liked these songs despite their obviously inferior nature. I labeled them as “guilty plessures” and continued to isolate myself. But it was too late, I had secretly fallen in love with this different music. This love would slowly grow and eat into my brain until it tore down the wall (see what I did there).

I said Fatboy Slim was the most important because I loved him the most. From the first time I heard Don’t Let the Man Get You Down on SSX3, I haven’t been able to view electronic music the same way. The way it sampled Signs by the Five Man Electrical Band was perfect for a purist like me. It kept the feel of the original song, including the fuzz of a record player. Sure it repeated the same line over and over again, but the song never got old. The beats were so clever, the instrumentation was fantastic, and the variations kept the song engaging without alienating my anti-electronic mindset. The song got me to buy a couple more Fatboy songs, The Rockafeller Skank, Weapon of Choice, Wonderful Night, Praise You, and Right here, Right Now. Fatboy Slim opened my eyes to electronic music, though it would take years until I readily accepted it.

It wasn’t until I came to Drexel and met my fellow bloggers Steve and John that my world was blown apart. The two of them introduced me to so many fantastic artists in so many different genres. Before I knew it I couldn’t get enough and became the music explorer I am today. I owe this change to them and to Fatboy Slim; he was able to put his foot in the door and let them it.

Three and a half weeks ago I was celebrating Record Store Day with Steve and John at Princeton Record Exchange. I picked a couple exclusive singles and then wandered over to the discount CD rack. I was ecstatic to find a copy of Fatboy Slim’s Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars for only two dollars. I was already a huge fan of You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby and HBGS’s hit single Weapon of Choice, I was excited to get the complete set.

If the album title is supposed to be
a euphemism like the album art suggests,
then that girl has REALLY long legs...
I should state for the record that I haven’t listened to entirety of Fatboy’s catalog, but I have at least a single from his first four albums (of five). So I feel fairly safe in saying that his sound and style hasn’t really changed much at all. I have said in the past that this can be a kiss of death for a band, that evolving is necessary to avoid stagnation. However, there are always exceptions to this rule and Fatboy is one of them. Fatboy’s sound is so distinct, nothing is really like it. There are other Big Beat acts, but no one sounds quiet like Fatboy. Even though he works with really diverse samples, I can identify if a song is by Fatboy song even if I have never heard it before. His style is so unique that he can get away with not changing it; he doesn’t need to.

So what exactly is Fatboy’s style? It is hard to put to words. I can list each individual component that comprises the sound, but it is the way that they are out together that makes it distinctly Fatboy. Interesting vocals are looped over a fast paced beats with various hooks fighting for attention with electronic noise on top. This sum of parts is prone to looping, breaking, and scratching. Fatboy mixes each track to mirror a genre, be it disco, dub, or funk. It is a kind of magical sound that is magnificently funky and addictive. Check out the music video for the Weapon of Choice, the best song on the album. I want to point out that this is the GREATEST MUSIC VIDEO OF ALL TIME despite the fact that it is of the shorter radio edit. (If you disagree, post a message on the Facebook and we can set up a meeting time for me to kick your ass).

The thing with Fatboy’s style is that it is very track oriented. Thus his albums feel more like a collection of tracks more than a complete work. Halfway Between the Gutter and the Star is a great example of this. The songs do not feel like they really belong together. There are some exceptions of course. Talking Bout my Baby and Song for Shelter are really nice bookends on the album, with the later containing a reprise of the former. The transition from Retox to Weapon of Choice is fantastic. Yet despite these examples I feel like I could trade out almost any other song, heck even half the songs, for a song from a different album and not notice the difference. I have said in the past that I am not a huge fan of albums of this sort, but that does not mean it is inherently bad. What it does mean is that it should be judged by the merits of each individual song and not the album as a whole.

HBGS didn’t really do anything for me on my first listen. I really enjoyed some tracks, Bird of Prey, Yo Mama, Drop the Hate, and Weapon of Choice of course. Yet the rest of the tracks’ vocal loops were not particularly interesting. Seeing as Fatboy’s style is centered so much around these loops, an uninteresting loop kills the magic of the song. However, as I listened to it some more my mind began to change. I noticed things I hadn’t on the first go. Songs became catchier the more I listened to them. Talking Bout my Baby, Mad Flava, and Retox really grew on me. I am really glad that I gave myself three weeks to check out this album and not one.

That being said, there was a limit to how much it grew on me. Some tracks just aren’t that enjoyable. Despite the greatness of its ending, most of Song for Shelter just isn’t particularly interesting. I think that Star 69 vocal loop is dull. I mean come on, “They know what is what, but they don’t know what is what, they just strut, what the fuck”? It tries to be interestingly cryptic and fails. Love Life just doesn’t do anything for me. I can’t decide how I feel about Demons. Sometimes it engages and entertains me, other times it can’t hold my attention.

HBGS as a whole is a decent album, I wouldn’t call it bad but I wouldn’t suggest you go out and buy it. That being said it has some tracks that you really shouldn’t miss, particularly Weapon of Choice. Fatboy’s style is very hit or miss; you will either love a track or not. So if you liked Weapon of Choice I recommend sifting through iTunes or YouTube and giving each track on HBGS maybe 30 seconds of your time. If you like what you hear, buy it; if not, forget about it. You should also check out the singles I listed at the top of the album, they are incredible. Don’t buy all of Halfway Between the Gutters and the Stars unless you’re a big Fatboy fanl; some of the songs are fantastic while others are crap. Halfway between the gutters and the stars indeed. 

No comments:

Post a Comment