You've Come A Long Way, Baby

FATBOY SLIM You've Come A Long Way, Baby

A few short years ago, Quentin 'Norman' Cook was staring poverty, divorce and imminent nervous breakdown in the face. Despite a string of inspired chart-pop identities, the former Housemartin was out of luck and out of fashion. The solution, audaciously enough, was to reinvent himself once more, this time as the Noel Gallagher of '90s dance music.

No, really, hear me out. Both Norm and Noel share a Midas-like gift for populist sing-along anthems which tap directly into the national psyche. Both are bright sparks who have built their kingdoms on shamelessy dumb, angst-free hedonism. Take the analogy one step further and this second Fatboy album is surely the '(What's The Story) Morning Glory?' of big beat, right? Well, arguably, yes. After all, this is the huge, throbbing, timely pinnacle of a style which Cook himself pioneered and which can probably progress no further without imploding into self-parody.

It also contains at least two definitive late-'90s pop milestones - 'The Rockafeller Skank' and imminent 'Gangster Trippin' - plus a smattering of equally brazen candidates for immortality. Of course, the true test is what Cook delivers in addition to these platinum-plated hits. Even the Fatboy himself admits to being a singles specialist who generally loses it over the long haul. But here, for maybe the first time, he demonstrates commendable stamina. The best tracks don't aim to emulate the crowd-pleasers but veer off on their own tangents, like the belting '60s-meets-'90s rare groove of 'Soul Surfing' or the beatific 'Praise You', a melding of dreamy gospel and piano-powered beats with a warm 'Screamadelica' vibe. Magnificent.

Sure, there are throwaway one-liners like 'Fucking In Heaven' (loads of juvenile swearing set to a funky beat - genius!) plus functional club tracks like 'Build It Up, Tear It Down' (anyone remember SAW's 'Roadblock'?) but most are redeemed by Cook's saucy cheek and undeniable affection for his vintage source material. Crucially, there is an unforced and easy-going love of soul music evident here which contrasts starkly with the po-faced, anally 'authentic' checklist of cool references underpinning more 'serious' dance projects - the UNKLE album, say.

Ironically, the Fatboy even employs a DJ Shadow sample at one point, but he's equally likely to namecheck Pinky & Perky. This is not an album for old-skool trainerspotters. So has Norman Cook really made the '...Morning Glory' of big beat? He almost certainly doesn't care either way, which is entirely fitting, but you can't help suspecting he's too sussed to record a 'Be Here Now' for breakbeat kids. And even if the tides of fashion turn against his cheap-and-cheerful party style next week, you can be sure the Fatboy has the limitless joie de vivre and barefaced cheek to reinvent himself yet again, somewhere down the line. He's come a long way already, and this mighty album is his career peak to date. Check it out. Now.
8 / 10

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