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The liner notes of I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat may attempt to sell the listener a cheap mythology of “a loose-limbed jamming unit” that recorded from the 1970s to the mid-nineties, but there’s no ignoring what this really is—Norman Cook’s own version of Timbaland’s Shock Value. Unlike dear Timothy’s mish-mash of pop collaborations, the final results play out like a carefully crafted, cohesive mixtape. And if Fatboy Slim makes you a mixtape, can you really turn it down?
The album’s opening track is Iggy Pop’s cover of “He’s Frank (Slight Return)”, which the aforementioned liner notes claim was recorded “four years before The Monochrome Set wrote it”. If the idea of the godfather of punk covering a post-punk classic doesn’t win you over, you’ll succumb to Cook’s danceable groove and the trademark baritone growl of The Stooges’ frontman. The tune’s video features a deranged Iggy Pop puppet beating up his handlers and eventually breaking a bottle on his producer’s head, an interesting nod to this strange but loveable partnership.
Unfortunately, Pete York’s dissonant follow up breaks the unwritten mixtape rule that weird-ass songs should be kept towards the end. Connan Hosford thankfully brings the set back to quirky goodness. His contribution may sound like an alien performing spoken-word poetry, but it provides a fantastic prelude to Ashley Beedle’s ska-ridden, Clash-referencing “Should I Stay or Should I Blow”. The song clocks in at “too short to suck” with 2:29, with a chorus that marks the best usage of the phrases “no, no, no” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” since Destiny’s Child’s 1997 hit.
The preceding four-song chunk represents the collection’s strongest sequential run. Justin Robertson’s “Island”, as far as vocals and sheer magic go, is reminiscent of David Bowie’s Labyrinth waltz-scene accompaniment, “As The World Falls Down”. With a backing hip-hop beat more characteristic of Pharrell Williams’ work with The Clipse than “Rockefeller Skank”, this heartfelt ballad also coincidentally recalls a less-annoying rendition of Timbaland and OneRepublic’s “Apologize”. A lyrical nod to Vincent Van Gogh slicing off his own ear may be a little creepy, but succeeds in illustrating Robertson’s desperate romanticism.
Even though psychedelic elements and Jamie T’s warbles compensate for the lack of catchiness, the infectious bassline of “Local Town” sticks in your head more than the chorus. Next, indie cutie Emmy the Great dazzles on “Seattle”, an excellent single-choice that is easily one of the album’s best cuts. After hearing the singer-songwriter ride over an electronic soundscape, her acoustic-driven solo output becomes questionable. In fact, the musical world would be a better place if she collaborated with Cook for an entire EP. The same could be said for Martha Wainwright on the reggae-tinged “Spade”, which brings to mind Lily Allen on narcotics (but more Canadian).
After a chronological moment of greatness, the sequence of “Superman” and “Superlover” doesn’t play out as particularly super. All is well when Simon Thornton takes his turn on the microphone until the “if I was Superman” refrain comes along. Offensive grammar aside, the entire notion of envying Clark Kent is overdone, cheesy and cringe-worthy. And while the repetition of “Superlover” is nowhere near as distressing, Cagedbaby’s Marc Anthony-like delivery puts a damper on what could have been a superb sexy-time jam.
It’s difficult to discern how “Toe Jam” would translate to someone who’s never heard of David Byrne or Dizzee Rascal, given the novelty of The Talking Heads’ founding father joining forces with one of the UK’s most ubiquitous grime rappers. If the summery bounce and Dizzee’s playful delivery aren’t extreme selling points, perhaps the video’s co-ed striptease could convert the skeptics. Boobs, vaginas, pornstaches and tighty whities provide an erotic touch that only an asexual could resist, and it’s not just about sex selling. Meticulously placed censor bars are utilized to present this naked party in an artistic, humorous light.
While the album’s finale can’t compete with nudity, Olly Hite doesn’t disappoint with his cover of Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes”, which is reminiscent of Jamie Lidell’s white-boy soul style. With pianos and handclaps, Hite will have you forgetting that you ever knew the original. It’s unclear why Cook decided to open and close the album with covers, but each track excels so far beyond the source material that it’s entirely forgivable.
With any luck, I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat will produce at least one pop hit that will propel it from criminally well-kept not-quite-indie secret to insanely mainstream recognition. Norman’s achieved near-viral status for his work in the pre-Youtube days, so it’s shocking that “Toe Jam” hasn’t propelled to the cultural relevance of something like OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again”. Perhaps treadmills are less threatening to the general public than pure innuendo? Let’s hope Cook has a few more tricks up his sleeve.
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