The cover of Norman Cook's breakout Fatboy Slim album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby, was a good clue to the contents, picturing as it did thousands of LPs straining the racks in Cook's record room -- undoubtedly just a small portion of his massive collection of sampling material. Inside, Cook unfolded a party record for the ages, long on fun (though understandably short on staying power), chock full of samples pillaged from all manner of obscure soul shouters and old-school rap crews, triggered and tweaked ad nauseam. With his third LP, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, Fatboy Slim's Norman Cook pulls away slightly from the notoriously fickle pop charts and crossover kids courted on his last record. Instead, he makes a conscious attempt to inject some real hedonism back into the world of dance -- he is
a DJ, after all. After a short intro, Cook tears into an acid techno rampage named "Star 69," a track that takes few prisoners and sounds closer to Plastikman than Propellerheads. Despite the torrid pace set early on, there's still quite a bit of the used-bin scavenger left in Cook; the most patented big beat anthems here, "Ya Mama" and "Mad Flava," include all the expected displays of crowd-moving hip-hop calls, unhinged beatbox funk, continual drum breakdowns, and plenty of rawk riffs. The first single, "Sunset (Bird of Prey)," is another potential crossover move, featuring what is easily the album's most recognizable sample source -- Jim Morrison from the Doors. Sniffy electronica purism aside, though, Cook remains, if not the best overall producer in the dance world, certainly in its top rank. Cook recruited collaborators for the first time -- nu-soul diva Macy Gray, funk legend Bootsy Collins, fellow superstar DJ/producer Roger Sanchez -- and the two tracks with Gray, "Love Life" and "Demons," are the highlights of the album. Cook's ample production talents are served best with a vocalist lending focus, and "Love Life" is a seven-minute ride veering from dirty, warped funk to noise-heavy hip-hop breakdowns while Gray scats, growls, and purrs with clearly audible glee. In all, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars is possibly Norman Cook's best possible statement after being -- nearly simultaneously -- picked up by a multitude of notoriously fickle pop consumers and thrown away by his previously rock-solid dance fanbase.