It's an upcoming movie with a cast headed by Ben Stiller, about a band of castoffs and outsiders who become unlikely superheroes.
But the soundtrack for the film features a few mystery men and castoffs of its own--one of whom has ridden a "secret" identity to become a music hero. In the movie and on the accompanying album, due from Interscope Records on July 27, will be a catchy electronic dance track titled "No Way" by an act billed as Freakpower. Half the duet is mild-mannered Norman Cook. If that doesn't ring a bell, look, up in the deejay booth--it's Fatboy Slim.
In that guise Cook has become an international hitmaker, with "The Rockafeller Skank" and "Praise You" among the most-played songs on radio in recent months. But he also records under several other names, including Freakpower, his partnership with vocalist Ashley Slater, with whom he's made two albums released in Europe. Only as Fatboy, though, does he have a U.S. record deal.
So with "No Way" getting its first U.S. release (it was a Top 20 single in the U.K. last year), record executives are salivating at the prospect of getting Cook on their roster in his alternate identity.
"I've been interested in Freakpower for a while," says Jason Bentley, an artists and repertoire executive at Maverick Records and one of L.A.'s leading electronic dance music deejays. "Norman's like the golden boy now because of the success at radio and the licensing to advertisers and soundtracks. He's in a great position."
That status is not lost on Cook's London-based manager, who is gearing up for an onslaught of calls about Freakpower. Tentative plans have the duo recording an album early next year. However, it has to wait until the Fatboy Slim juggernaut slows a bit, says Tony Pope of the Anglo management company, with a short U.S. tour (including Woodstock '99 later this month), an August break for Cook's wedding and possibly the recording of a new Fatboy Slim album coming first.
Meanwhile, another man of intrigue on the album is Michael Franti, the much-lauded leader of the group Spearhead, who shows off his singing rather than rapping on the wistful "Sometimes." Recently released from his deal with Capitol Records, the politically outspoken Bay Area musician is shopping for a new label. A House of Blues show in May was attended by executives from nine majors, and manager David Lefkowitz says he hopes to have a deal done by the end of summer, with a new album ready for early next year.
Several other artists who fall between the music business' cracks are also on the "Mystery Men" album, including the Violent Femmes (dropped by two major labels in recent years), who do a version of the Stranglers' "No More Heroes," and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, who offers the faux anthem "We Are the Mystery Men." These mix in with more mainstream acts such as Smash Mouth (the new single "All Star") and Kel Mitchell, co-star of Nickelodeon's popular "Kenan and Kel" show, who has just signed with Interscope.
"It's a common thread," says the film's music supervisor and album producer, Karyn Rachtman, whose credits include "Pulp Fiction" and "Bulworth." "It all feels really upbeat and underdoggish, which is what the movie is."
BLUE MOVES: Has the House of Blues banned hip-hop and R&B; shows in the wake of a recent shooting outside the West Hollywood club? That's the charge that's been spread across the Internet, but House of Blues officials insist that its recent cancellations and reschedulings of urban acts have no connection to a June 12 shooting incident after a rap show headlined by Big Daddy Kane.
A show by Roots member Rahzel, which had been booked for last Tuesday, fell victim to a scheduling shuffle caused by the last-minute addition of a Paul Simon date. And a planned July 17 show by singer Mya was called off due to her billing on the Lilith Fair at the Rose Bowl the same day, a condition of which was no other area shows could be advertised.
The club, which has been one of the primary sites for hip-hop and R&B; shows in L.A., has several prominent acts booked for upcoming shows, including July dates for the Tony Rich Project, Jurassic 5 and Dru Hill and a De La Soul show in September. The House of Blues also is the backer of the Smokin' Grooves tour, designed to dispel fears about urban music drawing violence.
A representative of Mya confirmed that there was nothing fishy about her being taken off the schedule, and a spokeswoman for Dru Hill says there has been no hint of concern from the club about the act's appearance.
WITH A BULLET: With the issue of violence in pop culture under a powerful microscope of late, Virgin Records raised a few eyebrows when a mailing of advance copies of a Gang Starr "best of" collection called "Full Clip" contained an 8mm Luger bullet. Publicist Jasmine Vega, who oversaw the mailing, says there was no commentary meant in the gimmick, which was meant as a reference to the title.
Vega did get some calls from people who had received the package and were concerned that the bullet was live. In fact, she says, she had a crew of interns, using a special tool, disassemble the nearly 1,000 bullets, remove the powder and reassemble them. The process took about a month.
MODEL CITIZEN: Between emerging as a young supermodel and establishing herself as a respected film actress, Milla Jovovich released an album titled "The Divine Comedy" in 1994 on EMI's now-defunct SBK Records, garnering strong reviews, if little in the way of sales.
Now, at age 23, she's resumed her musical career, making two recent appearances at LunaPark in West Hollywood, and Virgin Records, also part of EMI, is expected to pick up her deal.
Anyone who heard her old music should be prepared for a jolt. At 17 she sounded like a Kate Bush-inspired Euro-hippie, with a free-flowing mix of pop melodies and folk-baroque sounds. Now her music is much darker and more jagged, calling to mind PJ Harvey and, when her Russian-accented voice dips into the lower registers, the late German chanteuse Nico.