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 DJ’ing mix master has been collaging up silly pop songs since Beats International’s excellent 1990 album, Let Them Eat Bingo. The way the dance world’s bigbeat partisans cheer him, though, you’d think he had just invented the musical sucker punch all by himself.
Instead, Cook proves what all pop pros know: that obvious is harder than subtle. The “I 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 supercatchy 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, “Ganster Tripping,” to “fuck we’re doin’ when the Fatboy’s trippin’ ” — except that fuck is actually a slightly tweaked whut and is, moreover, utilized a mere 101 times — you suspect that maybe Cook is losing his nerve. And, indeed, “Kalifornia is druggy ” reads like yet another great hook. But it’s only pretty darned good.