Has it really been 15 years already, since Fatboy Slim’s 3rd album HALFWAY BETWEEN THE GUTTER AND THE STARS came out? Wow. Let’s take a trip down the memory lane!
1998, which happened even longer than 15 years ago, was a pretty interesting year for me. My last year of school had finally started, I was super enthusiastic about my future (Mostly because I knew that soon I never had to talk to any of those shit roosters at school again.) and the one CD that never seemed to leave my stereo, was Fatboy Slim’s YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY. I always had a thing for sampling. Taking beats, vocals, guitar riffs from something else, slicing them into pieces and creating something all new out of them, still hasn’t lost any of its fascination to me. And what Norman Cook did there under his Fatboy Slim moniker, was like a relevation to me. Sure, there were many artists before him, who cobbled their tracks together in maybe more subtle ways, but I still remember how I was unable to hide that wide grin on my face, when I listened the first time to GANGSTER TRIPPIN’.
What I’m trying to say here, is that YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY was a huge deal for me and I still call it my favourite album ever. So when Fatboy’s next album was about to drop two years later, it was THE event of the year for me. Seriously, there is nothing in my memories, that specifically reminds me of the year 2000, other than the excitement over finally having new Fatboy Slim material to listen to! But I will freely admit, that I was a little underwhelmed by the first new single SUNSET (BIRD OF PREY). I don’t know exactly what it was. Maybe despite its breakbeats, it was a little too chill for me. And the video, about a fighter pilot who had flashbacks of bombing Vietnam, was maybe a little bit too serious. But that didn’t stop me from being super excited.
My first listen of the full album was at my best friend’s house. I visited him that one afternoon to hang out for a bit, but not before I took a detour to the small and not very long-lasting CD shop downtown. That moment is for any reason still one of my most vivid memories. How I entered his room and said: “Ich habe das neue Fatboy Slim Album!” (“I got the new Fatboy Slim Album.”), followed by his laconic: “Schmeiss rein.” (“Throw it in.”) And so we listened to it, while surfing the internet. You should know, having internet access was at this time not as normal as it is now. Although DSL already existed, dial up was still the norm and monthly flatrates were something super brand new and mind blowing. But by then he actually had a DSL flatrate, so instead of going to the internet cafe, I surfed at his house once in a while.
But I digress.
I have to admit, I didn’t fully appreciate HALFWAY at first. But I wasn’t alone with that. Critics seemed pretty unsure about the album in general. The consensus was positive, but not overwhelmingly. One radio show that I listened to regularly (Forgot its name, it’s been off the air for something like 10+ years.), had by the end of each month four critics discussing some of the hottest albums of the last weeks. Two of them liked it, two of them didn’t. One of them downright hated RETOX and said that it would sound like something made for PARTYSERVICE. (A club oriented show on the same station, that aired on Saturday nights and made Piet Blank of BLANK & JONES fame somewhat of a DJ icon among the youth of my generation and area.)
One of the things that HALFWAY always had going for it, was its funk vibe. It’s not just Bootsy Collin’s participation on WEAPON OF CHOICE, but LOVE LIFE and MAD FLAVA are so funky, they will make you sweat harder than an orgy under the big bright yellow sun, under the big bright yellow sun, under the big bright yellow sun. (That’s a reference to the album’s intro TALKING ‘BOUT MY BABY, in case you are wondering.) Some critics were even holding it against the album. A feuilleton writer in my local newspaper suspected, that Mr Slim tried to initiate a funk and disco revival and scoffed at him for trying too hard. But my local newspaper critics were full of shit anyway.
For me, the admittedly small problem that I had with GUTTER AND THE STARS, was it’s laid-back vibe. A LONG WAY was pure energy, that even in its slow moments made you wanna shake your ass and randomly high five strangers. I wouldn’t call HALFWAY a chill out album, but if the previous album was the party of your life, this one was a BBQ at the beach with your friends on a sunny evening. So whoever decided to put that picture on the cover, had a similar thought. (I’m sure if the camera pulls back, it will totally reveal a barbecue.)
One track that clicked with me right from the beginning, was STAR 69. Although WEAPON OF CHOICE is maybe the better known GUTTER AND THE STARS track – mostly because of its iconic video with Christopher Walken – STAR 69 became a festival anthem. No doubt thanks to its heavy bassline and the super deep voice repeating the immortal words: “They know what is what, but they don’t know what is what. They just strut. What the fuck?” over and over and over. It also lead to my friend’s mother having a typical mom moment, by having her storm into the room and asking: “What the hell are you listening to? Turn it down!”
But my favourite track on there has always been YA MAMA. Probably because it was the most YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY-ish on there. Fat beat, cool samples and not to mention that long 303 break. Listening to it for the first time was just pure bliss and 15 years later, it still holds up. I have no idea why it never became a bigger breakout track, although it’s not like it ended up as some obscure album track, that only a small group of people care about. After all it got a Moguai remix a few years ago. Admittedly one that doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but I still love to drop it once in a while.
As mentioned before, WEAPON OF CHOICE is the big smash hit of the album. But it was another track that I didn’t love right from the beginning. To me, it was one of the more forgettable ones 9and we can thank my sister that it grew on me. She was the one who kept playing it over and over. Also I’m sure the heavy airplay after the Christopher Walken video helped too.
It’s weird, that such a well made album was initially received so lukewarm. It’s not like it was something too far out and experimental. In fact, it was pretty grounded and accessible, but maybe that was its problem. It’s not like Fatboy delivered a half-assed album, but after the Big Beat explosion of YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY, expectations were different and expectations are a bitch. But I learned to love HALFWAY pretty quick and so did apparently the rest of the world. It’s not just that Skint thinks it’s worth to release a 15th anniversary edition, in the wake of it I keep hearing more and more people speak highly positive of it. And believe me, I really hope that in 2019 the same will happen to PALOOKAVILLE, which is an album, that deserves the „underrated“ label more than HALFWAY BETWEEN THE GUTTER AND THE STARS.