The BPA is the Brighton Port Authority. Fans of Fatboy Slim should know that this is Norman Cook’s latest project. This time around, he has a collaborator in Simon Thornton. The premise is rather gimmicky. This album says in its liner notes that it was recorded “sometime during the ’70′s,” but it’s so obviously current. With guests like Iggy Pop and David Byrne, such a declaration might not be that big a leap of faith but others like Martha Wainwright and Jamie T. make this less believable. It’s just ridiculous. Last summer, the video for Byrne’s collaboration, “Toe Jam” surfaced on youtube and it was an appealing, funny horn-driven dance number. It showcased a very familiar sound, possessing many of the same positive qualities as Cook’s Fatboy Slim output. Rapper Dizzee Rascal also was on the track. It was a great combination of talents and it showed potential for the coming full-length album. Now, at the beginning of 2009, we finally have the album (currently available as an Amazon exclusive) and “Toe Jam” is definitely the best track on there. “I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat” is all about lost potential. We all know Norman Cook can deliver the goods and deliver a diverse mish-mosh of sonic ingenuity, but here the results are incredibly mixed. Some vocalists work better here than others as expected, but as an album, this often fails to reach the expected lift-off. Iggy Pop sets things off with a cover of The Monochrome Set’s “He’s Frank (Slight Return.)” A slightly remixed and tweaked version of this track was found on 2008′s “Heroes” soundtrack, and that version played a little better. Somehow everyone lost the excitement found in the original. Iggy’s trying to be menacing as he delivers his lines in a low, deep growl, but the whole spectacle winds up more lackluster than expected. The track almost works, but it just needs a slight bit more of a kick to jump it into hyper-drive. As it is, it stands as the third or fourth best song on the record. “Dirty Sheets,” a collaboration with vocalist Pete York is next, but it’s just odd and somewhat of an unpleasant listen. Cook’s signature bounce is there but York’s vocal turn is somewhat dissonant. The tune is odd and does not stick. The murky mood makes for a good excuse to cover everything with a momentary layer of fuzz. It also gives me an excuse to never listen to this track ever again. “Jumps The Fence” features Connan Hosford (listed as Connan Mockasin) of the New Zealand band Connan & the Mockasins. For those of you familiar with that band’s sound, the track is as undeniably trippy. How does it sound? Imagine if Lady Sovereign has a past as a beat-poet and an old cut was put over a bouncy garage beat. Interesting? A little. Strange? You Bet. It’s a really random psychedelic exercise. Once again, I’m not so sure it really works on repeated listening despite some clever work from Cook. The title of “Should I Stay Or Should I Blow” is an obvious nod to the Clash and its Cook’s collaboration with electronic producer and performer Ashley Beedle. This track actually works throughout, mostly because it has that Fatboy Slim reggae-fueled party madness. The “no-no-no” and “yeah-yeah-yeah” chorus is tired but passable. At 2:29, the track is also short enough not to wear out its welcome.
Justin Robertson (ex-Lionrock) does a really nice job on his collaboration, “Island.” After some so-so tracks, the warm, thick, hand-clap driven, synth-chilled groove here seems like a sudden awakening. This song should definitely be a single. Jamie T. on the other hand tries to make the most of a fun, fuzz-bass riff on “Local Town,” but it’s evident that at least on this track that he very well may be tone-deaf. His way-off vocal delivery does the track no favors. It’s pretty painful. ”Seattle,” featuring the folky Emmy the Great, is the kind of swirling psychedelia you might expect on a Chemical Brothers album. (Think of a dancier, more upbeat alternative to Beth Orton’s “Where Do I Begin?”) Thankfully this track returns the BPA to earth and shares a similar warmth with “Island.” It’s another highlight. Martha Wainwright gets her turn next on the reggae track, “Spade.” It’s a throwback to Cook’s Beats International days, not to mention his work with Shinehead. The track works. Wainwright is as always a stellar singer but something is a little off-putting about the track. Imagine if Kate Bush did a track backed by Toots & the Maytals. It’s an odd but effective combination. Thornton gets to step up from the booth and lead “Superman.” Again, the track has a quiet, mellow warmth like “Island” and “Seattle.” It gets better with each listen. The lush organ line feels like it could envelop you. “Superlover” features the band Cagedbaby. Cook’s synth-driven backdrop shows promise, but lead-singer Tom Gandey shoots the track off course with his James Blunt-esque voice and his hokey lyrics. (“Lady can’t you see the quiet of the night leads to something very special and right.”) Someone needs to let that baby out of the cage, quickly. The before-mentioned “Toe Jam” is next and shows what this record really could’ve been. It’s an example of talented people working together well. David Byrne isn’t someone who has ever really embarrassed himself and here he continues to add to his cool legacy. Vocalist, Olly Hite ends the disc with “So It Goes.” It’s a faux funk, campfire sing-along. It sounds like a jazzed up, remixed Donavon Frankenreiter track. It’s happy and uplifting but in a bland and sappy sort of way. I suppose it may be a fitting ending for some. It’s definitely inoffensive. The problem with this record is that it’s unbelievably uneven. Half the tracks range from merely good to great and some tracks are just plain awful. I suppose with the range of performers on this record this is to be expected but in all it’s a disappointment. If they need a bigger boat, I’ve got a solution. Remove all the wasted tracks and cull together a decent EP. If this had been cut down to the best five or six songs, it would’ve been much more enjoyable. Nevertheless Norman Cook is still a dynamic beat-smith! This record’s weakness isn’t necessarily his fault.