Album Review: The Brighton Port Authority, I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

[from MadeLoud, May 11, 2009]

There’s something to be said for well-executed, over-the-top eclecticism and a rotating cast of guest vocalists. A strange fusion of punk, jazz and classic rock delivered with several dozen guests provided the core for one of Mike Watt’s finest albums, and none other than Carlos Santana has made a fine living inviting friends onto his records. With I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat, producer/songwriter Norman Cook aka The Brighton Port Authority (although you might know already him better as Fatboy Slim) taps into the vocal talents of a veritable all-star team of fringe heroes and delivers a totally unexpected, nearly flawless alt-rock album.

To be sure, certain elements of the Slim playbook are in effect – chopped techno beats, select instances of overuse of a vocal hook (see Connan Mockasin’s chorus on “Jumps the Fence”) – but the end result is a mostly guitar-driven album that simply rocks. Fittingly, none other than Iggy Pop comes out of the gate swinging on a cover of The Monochromes Set’s “He’s Frank (Slight Return),” delivering with a frantic intensity no 61-year-old man should even dream of and setting the bar quite high; luckily for Cook, the remainder of the tracks mostly manage to meet the standard.

But besides its starpower and impeccable arrangements, the great triumph of Boat lies not in its songwriting or even Cook’s expectedly skilled production, but in the wholeness of it; even with its disparate lineup of vocalists and personnel, Cook’s past life making late-90s sonic partyscapes obviously taught him a thing or two about ebb and flow in musical space. People may still debate the musical validity of calling the Fatboy Slim catalog “albums,” but Cook either by choice or by trade has thrown down the gauntlet here. Be it the washed synth pads of the anthemic “Island” or the throwback ska backing Martha Wainwright’s warbling vocals on “Spade,” Boat manages to become that rare rotating cast album that stays true to the medium without collapsing under the weight of its ambitions and personalities.

Some of this stems from the simple logic of putting so many known quantities in one setting, but in a larger sense Cook shows a real understanding for using not just songs to advance the disc but actually using styles. The soulful trip-hop of “Superman” and “Superlover,” for example, give logical rests towards the album’s close, but not before David Byrne, Dizzee Rascal and Olly Hite end things with a bang.

On the partially nonsensical “Toe Jam,” also one of the album’s clear high points, Byrne sings that “Every day is fucking perfect.” I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat is most assuredly not, but it comes remarkably close.