You know what’s bloody irritating? Having your attempts to write a review constantly interrupted by the irresistible urge to get up and dance. Yet when an album starts on The Rockerfeller Skank and follows straight on with Praise You, is it any surprise that it’s virtually impossible to sit still?
Why Try Harder answers its own question effortlessly, presenting 18 tracks from superstar DJ and remixer extraordinaire Fatboy Slim that span barely a decade and four albums: Better Living Through Chemistry, You’ve Come A Long Way Baby, Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars and Palookaville, which between them, have delivered 10 top 20 singles and two number ones.
A compilation such as this can’t really go wrong, can it? All the songs included here are instantly familiar, even if sometimes that might be from adverts rather than the charts; the remix of Groove Armada‘s I See You Baby conjures up images of arse-shaking cars and French girls as much as beachbound clubbers, but that’s only because it’s unforgettable in whatever context. If anything, the most impressive thing here (as if the songs aren’t impressive enough) is the relatively short time period the album covers: Cook’s been consistently producing these genuine gems at a rate of about two a year, selling eight million records in the process on both sides of the Atlantic. The second time he played on Brighton beach, the traffic was backed all the way to Gatwick Airport, people were so desperate to see him play.
The songs are so ingrained on the public psyche that you can barely listen to them without the iconic videos jumping into your head – Christopher Walken flying through Weapon of Choice, to Praise You’s bonkers community dance troupe, voted Best Video of All Time by MTV viewers.
Why Try Harder covers Cook’s entire career as Fatboy Slim (a persona record label Skint was originally created to promote) from early hits Santa Cruz to 1998’s transformative remix of Cornershop‘s Brimful of Asha, which took a previously mediocre indie single, added some extra beats and catapulted it to the top of the charts.
One of Cook’s greatest strengths is his ability to bring out the best in others as well as in his own material: he knows how to make the best possible use of vocal samples, and demonstrates this nowhere better than on tracks such as Praise You, which updated Camille Yarborough‘s Take Yo Praise to create an instant classic and make a fortune for its original singer. He’s never afraid to let others share the spotlight, be it Bootsy Collins on Weapon of Choice or the late Jim Morrison on Sunset Bird of Prey, although he sounds equally confident and assured when he’s going it alone, producing something completely new and original with only a couple of decks, a sequencer and his own talents to play with.
There’s an undeniable arrogance to putting two new tracks – Champion Sound and That Old Pair of Jeans – on a Greatest Hits compilation, but if anyone can be pretty sure they aren’t going to be flops, it’s our Norman.
If there’s any possible criticism of the package at all, it’s only that perhaps an added bonus could have been to take us further back in time and include a couple of hits (or even his two number ones) from the pre-Fatboy days, when he was plain Norman Cook, bass player for The Housemartins (who reached Number One with Caravan Of Love) or Beats International (Number One again with Dub Be Good to Me), or Freakpower, Mighty Dub Katz, Pizzaman, Norman Cook Presents Wildski or even Fried Funk Food, piling up Top 40 hits with all of them.
But at the end of the day, there just isn’t room, or the need. He’s right: with efforts like this behind him, there really is no need to try harder. But just imagine what we might get if he did.