We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Like his big (break)beat kin, the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim makes block-rockin’ party music. But unlike the “Everybody’s free, feel good!” camp of camp dance music, Slim’s Better Living Through Chemistry doesn’t make you feel as if you’re being dumbed down as you get down. The Fatboy in question is actually Englishman Norman Cook, the slim former bassist for ’80s Jesus-freak commies the Housemartins. Cook says his stint with the Hull indie-poppers was just a job, and his leadership of the early-’90s house/dub collective Beats International proved that his heart was nearer to the dance floor than to either Marx or the Lord. After the Beats broke up, Cook continued DJing, routinely mixing everything from soul to jazz to rap to techno in his sets, and the juicy Better Living Through Chemistry bears the fruit of his many fertile influences. The bouncy “First Down” is acidic jazz that burns a hole right through the speakers. Both “Santa Cruz” and “Song for Lindy” could easily be mistaken for lost tracks from Exit Planet Dust. And the skipping trance of “Give the Po’ Man a Break” is both comical and maddening. Cook generally avoids, or at least has fun twisting, electronica commonplaces such as naming a track after its central sample: The wah-wahed, R&B funker “The Sound of Milwaukee” features no samples from Laverne and Shirley, and the guitar-fried screamadelica of “Michael Jackson” features not a single squeal of “He-heeee” (though “Going Out of My Head” does sample a version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” for its main motif, which is quickly becoming a dance cliché; it’s the third song I know of to use that tune’s sharp hook). At your next holiday party, after the seasonal songs, put on Better Living Through Chemistry; the joint will be smoking for 70 minutes straight.Christopher Porter