If Fatboy Slim's new album, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, makes you want to do the shimmy-shimmy, that's cool, but if not, that's OK with him, too.
"It's a bit more like, 'You know what, sometimes it's all right not to dance,' " the DJ/producer said. "You can dance if you want to, but you don't have to. Take it or leave it."
For a gregarious artist who established a reputation for inciting audiences to get up and go insane with his first two albums, 1996's Better Living Through Chemistry and '98's platinum You've Come a Long Way, Baby, and vigorous DJ sets around the globe, this is a statement that induces some chin-stroking.
The album, due Tuesday, blazes several new paths for Fatboy (born Norman Cook), which was his main goal when he began the recording process, he said.
"When I started the album, all I knew was what I didn't want to do," he said. "I didn't want to repeat myself, I didn't want to make
another big-beat album."
This decision takes on many forms on Halfway, from the late-night piano-bar drawl of "Talking 'Bout My Baby," the opening track, to the grinding funk-soul of "Love Life" and the 5 a.m. house anthem "Song for Shelter."
"I've kind of laid off the big beat," Fatboy said of the evolution. "Finally, after three years, it was wearing a bit thin, kind of formula. I've gotten a bit more house-y, but it is sort of in the middle there, but that's what I've always done."
Another Fatboy first on Halfway was his move to work with vocalists (at the behest of his mates the Chemical Brothers), the fruits of which include two intensely publicized tracks with soul star Macy Gray, "Love Life" and "Demons," and "Song for Shelter," a paean to the power of the dance floor with house-music veteran Roland Clarke, the unforgettable voice on Armand Van Helden's club classic "Flowerz."
Fatboy's step into the vocal realm was a slightly
hesitant one. "It was sort of an experiment," he said. "If you phone up Macy Gray and ask, 'Will you work with me?' will she say, 'Who? What?' ... I got really scared and shy and forgot all about it. Then about three months later I bumped into her at the Brits the English version of the Grammys and she came up and said, 'Weren't we supposed to be making a record together?' And I was like, 'I was hoping you'd forget about that.' "
"Song for Shelter," which Fatboy called his favorite song on the album, is an epic jam that returns to his underground roots, another goal he had for the new album.
"It's a celebration of all I love about club music," he said. "And it's reaffirming that even though I've crossed over into the pop market quite a lot, it's saying to all my mates in the clubs, I remember why we do this."
Tracks that storm in your face with banging drum breaks and superpowered rhythms are by no means absent, however. "Ya Mama," which is featured
in the upcoming "Charlie's Angels" movie, "Retox" and "Drop the Hate" will have no problem filling the dance floor when Fatboy drops them into his DJ sets.
An eminently recognizable voice also shows up on Halfway, but it isn't a collaboration: The first single, "Bird of Prey," features a sample of the Doors' Jim Morrison, whose voice soars above a track that blends warm melodic washes with the squiggles and synths of techno. The song had been kicking around Fatboy's studio for quite some time, until he realized it might be a hit and plopped it on the album.
"I actually started working on that track about five years ago," he said. "I did this sort of ambient album just for my friends, and a sort of blueprint version of 'Bird of Prey' was on that, and I sort of came back to it."
Although it smacks of an attempted stab at the limelight, the genesis of the track turns out to be far more modest.
"There was a bootleg of spoken-word Jim Morrison
and I thought, 'There might be something usable,'" Fatboy said. "Most of it was just poetry, which wasn't really much use, but he just sung these three lines right in the middle and I was like, 'Does that sound catchy?' "
The answer is on wax.