Always Outnumbered,Never Outgunned
Though he should never be forgiven for that scene in She's All That where Rachael Leigh Cook line-dances to "The Rockafeller Skank," give Norman Cook credit for this: The man knows his limitations. He begins his fourth album as Fatboy Slim with a sample from the Five Man Electrical Band's hippie-pride anthem "Signs," later repopularized by the five-man hair-metal band Tesla. "And the sign said, 'Long-haired freaky people need not apply,'" a nasal voice whines over an update of War's "Low Rider" groove. At a moment when the dance music Cook helped take mainstream during the mid-'90s electronica boom has splintered into a thousand micro-niches, Fatboy's still slinging his schlock-rocking beats like the world is his Super Bowl halftime show.
Not that Palookavillesuffers for the producer/DJ's populist spirit; as usual, his willingness to please gives the disc its fast-food kick. "Slash Dot Dash" turns a two-note bass riff and a percolating surf beat into a manic go-go freak-out; "Put It Back Together" reconfigures George Harrison's flowery psychedelia for a night at the hookah bar; "Long Way From Home" credibly approximates jam-band choogle. Closer "The Joker"-yep, the Steve Miller tune, sung here by Bootsy Collins-is pure space-cowboy abracadabra; wedding receptions will never again be complete without it.
If Cook is big-ticket techno's affable, party-startin' Kid Rock, enigmatic Prodigy mastermind Liam Howlett is its Fred Durst-angrier and clumsier. Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned comes on harsh with brutal splashes of rap-rock color: Opener "Spitfire" layers overmodulated Middle Eastern wails on top of bomb-the-bass beats; actress-cum-rock-chickJuliette Lewis gives "Hot Ride" a black-light psychobilly edge. Howlett matches Cook for pop-culture cheek, too, jacking the riff from Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz" (which Nirvana covered on their first single) for "Phoenix" and using the bass line from "Thriller" to gird the disco-punk squeals of "The Way It Is."
Yet for all its sonic sizzle, Prodigy's fourth album feels frustrated in a way that Palookaville doesn't, maybe because there's no sign of Howlett's pal Keith Flint, the pierced bozo who made "Firestarter" such a juvenile blast. Howlett seems to have things to say (about America? the environment? consumer-grade recording equipment?) but without a mouthpiece he seems spooked by the size of the job. He wants to inspire revolt, but where are his long-haired freaky people, line-dancing in the streets?
Grades: Fatboy Slim, B;