In the year or so following the release of You've Come a Long Way, Baby, the second studio album Norman Cook recorded under the name Fatboy Slim, the man turned into a cottage industry: after the ubiquitous singles "The Rockafeller Skank" and "Praise You" came a whomping remix of Groove Armada's "I See You Baby," quick-buck compilations like The Fatboy Slim/Norman Cook Collection and Fatboy Slim's Greatest Remixes, and belated U.S. releases of British-label mix CDs like On the Floor at the Boutique and Essential Selection Vol. One, a double bill with trance superstar Paul Oakenfold. So by late last year, when Astralwerks released Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, a backlash was already brewing. The album was received tepidly by critics and tanked on the charts, dropping off the Billboard 200 before Cook had even appeared on the cover of the March issue of Spin. Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars really isn't as consistent as either You've Come a Long Way, Baby or 1996's Better Living Through Chemistry--but it is for the most part a successful attempt on Cook's part to mature musically, and in his field that's something. The album's failures are its concessions to the old fun-at-all-costs sound--like the cheesy, lounge-horns-laden "Weapon of Choice." When Cook takes off the lampshade and reaches deep into soul, gospel, and house music for inspiration--a logical leap from "Praise You"--he lights up the room. The goosebump-raising "Song for Shelter," featuring great underground house vocalist Roland Clark, testifies to the healing power of the dance floor as convincingly as any record I've ever heard, and "Demons," with Macy Gray, is a stunning gospel-soul sing-along. Unfortunately, the last time I caught him behind the decks, around the album's release, Cook's emphasis was still on the rah-rah silliness that established him as a frat favorite. Friday, May 4, 8 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 312-666-6667 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jill Greenberg.