Fatty Koo’s House of Fatty Koo

If there was ever a need to discard of the term, “music group”, then Fatty Koo would likely be forerunners of such a movement. More like a small-scale conglomerate rather than a sextet, the group aims to draw attention to their style and sound through their collective and unique assortment of words and sounds, in conjunction with their peculiar stage name (Fatty Koo: a woman’s posterior morphed, for the group’s purposes, into a term denoting a woman’s mojo; i.e. 2005’s “Bootylicious”).

Ron (writer, producer, instrumentalist, in-house emcee), Eddie B. (singer, writer, drummer), Gabrielle (singer, writer, poetess), Valure (singer, writer), and Marya (writer, Venezuelan cellist) all met in Columbus, Ohio via the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus (a tour bus with an on-board recording studio that travels America and lets young, aspiring musicians come aboard and record music).

After certain record execs scouted them individually, it was the head of DAS Communications that had the bright idea of pooling their individual talents into one unit in hopes of forming a “super-group” of sorts. But it seemed that the circle was not yet complete and after moving them all into one house/recording studio, auditions were held for a 6th member. Once 15-year old Josh (singer, saxophonist) was chosen, the group inked both a major-label record deal with Sony Urban and a television deal with BET, who documented the recording of the group’s debut album for the reality series, Blowin’ Up.

They had the talent, the chemistry, the funds, and the attention. All that was left for Fatty Koo to do was capitalize on it all and parlay it into a successful music career via the summer release of their debut album, House of Fatty Koo. Taking into consideration the talent each member possesses, the album had the potential to be a brilliant hodgepodge of words and sounds that borrowed equal parts from each member’s individual style and sound and combined them into one cohesive vision. The sound of the album is easily broken up into three categories; the club songs, the smooth grooves, and the requisite ballad. And instead of overflowing with potential brilliance, the album showcases sporadic moments of brilliance that occasionally break through the album’s overall cloudy confusion.

What I found interesting about Fatty Koo was how the show documented the various group members playing different musical instruments. However, on the album, not one live instrument nor musician from Fatty Koo (or otherwise) is credited. And listening to tunes like the opener, Shake, its somewhat disheartening when you hear such talented musicians opt for club-tunes-in-a-can that rely on cheap synths, weak melodies, and anemic hooks to get people on the floor.

Opening an album with mediocrity can set a bad precedent but thankfully, Shake isn’t indicative of the sound of the album. The club songs take up 1/3 of the album. Lead single, Bounce, takes what is normally cheap club instrumentation and turns it into a pulsating, underground rhythm that throbs with a dark, smoky grit hard to find in most mainstream club drivel. Not to mention a catchy hook that is amped even further in the song’s original incarnation, Bounce (Bounce), which is essentially the same song with the electric guitars dirtied up for hypnotizing effect. Fatty Koo is also an interesting listen since it takes a manufactured faux-Indian vibe and keeps things interesting without so much as a chord progression or substantial hook.

But just before all hope and faith is lost in Fatty Koo’s potential, they smartly interject the generic with one of the most beautiful ballads to be composed in 2005. While no “Ordinary People”, Chills is a definite reminder of Fatty Koo’s capabilities. They shed all the bells and whistles in favor of a simple and sparse piano/drum/string arrangement that swells and shrinks in the right places at the right times. And they manage to sound anxious, enamored, and smitten all at once, with Valure (sounding similar to a young India.Arie), Josh, and Eddie B. all injecting the perfect amount of emotion and passion that helps the saccharine lyricism avoid the clich?d corniness prevalent in the majority of love songs today.

As expected, “Chills” is the highlight of the album. While the album peaks soon, it doesn’t take a complete nosedive down into mediocrity. Like That Girl embodies the sound of a true “music group”, with their 6-part harmony and solo vocal turns set against a nursery-rhyme melody strangely evoking memories of a watered-down “Candy Girl”. And Lust quickly turns the notches back up on high; each member expressing their own infatuation while the sleek and sexy arrangement symbolizes the secret and unspoken passion at the center of the song’s message.

Then Fatty Koo stumbles once again with the just plain boring Princess In Disguise. The vocals are stoic and bland, the lyrics are generic and clich?d, and the production once again recycles cheap drum machines and synths into yet another anemic composition. But here comes that bright beam of brilliant sunlight peaking through on Cruise Control. A soulful throwback modernized for mainstream appeal, the record is a smart and smooth exercise in both melody and harmony that owes much debt to many of Motown’s finest composers. The vocal harmonies and backups are seamless, the leads are strong and soulful, the lyrics are catchy and sound like actual thought was inputted, and the production finally suggest live instrumentation; drums, bass, guitars, horns, in short, the works. Once again, Fatty Koo redeem themselves from the abyss of mediocrity. . .

. . .only to fall right back in with the mindless, electronic, and just plain noisy G’on Girl. Tight kinda redeems with its repetitive 4-beat synth-drum loop and stunted bassline turning into a club anthem for ladies that could easily fill floors up and down the coast. But then enters Juke Joint, which equates to “Princess (Reprise)”, this time with a pitiful salsa interlude.

But thankfully, the album ends much unlike it opened. Move On wins best concept, as it plays out as a conversation between Gabrielle and Valure (who both voiced their dislike for the other on the TV show) portraying best friends; Gabrielle as the friend done wrong by her man and Valure the friend trying to talk some sense into her, with Eddie B. playing the voice of reason on the hook. The melody structure is different and impressive, while the lyrical banter between the two is quite dramatic without being overwrought. And Drive Myself Crazy is a prime example of mainstream pop balladry done right; tender piano licks, contrasted drum sets, and somber strings all underscoring the ache of pain that subtly shades the forlorn verses and strengthens the outcry of a hook.

Listening to the brilliant moments on this album, it’s apparent Fatty Koo have the knowledge and the talent necessary to make a brilliant, possibly groundbreaking, album. Which makes it frustrating to listen to this album explore which buttons do what on the production board and throwing words and sentences together based on which rhymes the best.

Fatty Koo has what it takes to become visionaries in the world of music and considering this album is 100% self-contained, it’s not a bad listen by any stretch. They’re all strong vocalists (with Ron as a tolerable emcee) and they seem to have the art of collaboration down to a science, as they all seem to get equal vocal time in the booth and behind the boards. But leaving them to their own devices has proven that their brilliant ideas somehow get lost in mediocre translation. And sadly, such a lack of direction is ultimately what plagues the House that Fatty Koo built.

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