It would seem that collaborating with Norman Cook might not be the best career move. From his days in The Housemartins, only Paul Heaton seems to have emerged intact. Stan Cullimore was last heard of writing children’s books, while Hugh Whitaker served some years at Her Majesty’s pleasure. As for Fatboy Slim‘s post-Housemartins projects, Lindy Layton of Beats International disappeared off the face of the Earth – as indeed did the rest of the group.
It seemed likely that the same fate would befall Ashley Slater, who was the memorable voice behind Freakpower‘s Tune In Turn On Cop Out. You could be forgiven for thinking that Slater was just sticking to guest spots on other peoples records, such as old buddy Fatboy Slim’s Retox and Summer Music by EDP. In reality, however, he was busy preparing Big Lounge, his debut solo album.
It’s incredible to think that Slater’s career has spanned 22 years, and yet this is his debut solo album. The production on this record is lush and soulful and gives the impression of a man at ease with releasing an album every few years. In fact at first listen, Big Lounge sounds almost too slick for its own good – the danger is that lazy people may lump it into the easy listening bracket, which it really doesn’t deserve. There are hidden depths to this record which pay off on repeated listening. Merry Xmas for example begins with a big brassy intro, before spiralling off into a bizarre amalgam of Hey Big Spender and a Glenn Miller big band number, with Slater muttering lasciviously in a Cockney accent, “Alright Santa, got anything nice for me?” over a fiddle. It’s ridiculously inventive and really shouldn’t come off but it works perfectly.
A Miles Davis style trumpet mournfully introduces Go Ahead before sliding effortlessly into Slater’s best Barry White impression – although it’s hard to imagine Barry singing “If I had the moral turpitude, you know I’d make you mine”. The spirit of White is invoked too in the old Freakpower favourite, the deliciously dirty Husband with it’s Jarvis Cocker-like lyric “I’ll kiss you where your husband won’t”. Surreality abounds meanwhile in the jazzy Strange Dream, with tales of mob guys pouring cement into Slater’s head, parading naked on a soldier’s passing-out parade and swimming in an aquarium.
As if that wasn’t enough, this album could also provide a valuable public service, in teaching Robbie Williams how to properly perform a decent cover version of Something Stupid, Slater’s version of which closes this album.
For everyone who was a fan of the rich, soulful voice behind Tune In, this album is an essential purchase. If your tastes lean towards the heavier, more angst influenced end of the market, then move on, there’s nothing to see here. For everyone else though, this is good time, happy music with a sharper edge than usual that deserves a wide audience.