Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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You've Come a Long Way, Baby

The ascendancy of Norman Cook, in the guise of Fatboy Slim, has to amuse anyone for whom techno's countless variants constitute one corner of the musical universe rather than a brave new world. The Housemartins bassist turned DJing mixmaster has been collaging up silly pop songs since Beats International's excellent 1990 album, Let Them Eat Bingo. The way the dance world's big-beat partisans cheer him, though, you'd think he'd just invented the musical sucker punch all by himself.

Instead, Cook proves what all pop pros know--that obvious is harder than subtle. The "Can't Explain" riff that typifies 1997's Better Living Through Chemistry? Brilliant. The rest of it? Pretty darned good is all. So on You've Come a Long Way, Baby, Cook makes the hooks as blatant as a dance-world denizen can--he stoops to vocals. After opening with the cheeky Wu-Tang lite of "Right Here Right Now," he keys his super-catchy single-of-the-year candidate, "The Rockafeller Skank," to the rapped "Right about now, the funk soul brother." And while there's no way to improve on that instant classic, the way "In Heaven" ("Fatboy Slim is fucking in heaven") repeats the word "fucking" 108 times is more than pretty darned good. It's a world-historic gimmick.

But when he keys the next track, "Gangster Tripping," to "Fuck we're doin' when the Fatboy's trippin'," except that the "fuck" is actually a slyly tweaked "whut" and is moreover utilized a mere 101 times, you suspect that maybe Cook is losing his nerve. And indeed, "Kalifornia is druggy druggy druggy druggy" reads like yet another great hook. But it's only pretty darned good.

Rolling Stone, 1998