You've Come A Long Way, Baby is the name of Fatboy Slim's best album, but it can serve equally well to describe his musical evolution.
Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, played bass in one of my favorite '80s British bands, the Housemartins, before reinventing himself as the electronica superstar he is today. A new album, The Greatest Hits: Why Try Harder?, showcases the best of his Fatboy Slim songs.
On the surface, the Housemartins seem to have little in common with Fatboy Slim. The Housemartins and Fatboy Slim sound about as similar as, say, Fountains of Wayne and the Del McCoury Band. But there is a connection beside Cook himself: Both the Housemartins and Fatboy Slim have songs filled with infectious, catchy hooks that make this reviewer want to do something rare for him, namely dance.
Cook was working as a DJ, experimenting with different sounds and styles, even before he was in the Housemartins. After the Housemartins broke up, Cook performed under various names – MC Wildski, Feelgood Factor, and Pizzaman – and as part of Beats International and Freakpower.
But it was as Fatboy Slim that Cook really came into his own, becoming – along with the
Chemical Brothers – the best, and most popular, electronica artist to specialize in the style known as big beat. Put simply, big beat is a combination of the feel good vibe of house music with the rhythms of hip hop and vocal samples from various sources.
Fatboy Slim released his first album, Better Living Through Chemistry, in 1997. The best songs off that album, including “Going Out Of My Head” and “Santa Cruz,” are featured on this Greatest Hits collection, demonstrating the catchy use of samples and hooks that would become his hallmark.
His most popular album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby (1998), contained one of the songs for which he is best known: "The Rockafeller Shank". This song has the most interesting combination of twang and electronica you will ever hear.
Where he really shines on these songs is taking a sample, mixing it with other music, and
taking it in more directions than you dreamed possible. At its best, this is really imaginative, amazing music. At its worst, it is just dumb and excessive, such as the song "In Heaven," which has the "f" word repeated more than 100 times. Wisely, that song is left off Greatest Hits.
The new songs – "Champion Sound," featuring Lateef of Blackalicious, and "That Old Pair of Jeans" – are, frankly, not his best. But the remixes of Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha" and Groove Amanda’s "I See You Baby” are excellent reminders of what he can do as a DJ when working off another artist's songs.
My favorite track is “Weapon of Choice,” off the Halfway album. Not only does it have some of the best samples and lyrics of any of his songs, I love the video for it, which features actor Christopher Walken seemingly dancing on ceilings.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with electronica. Blogcritics contributor uao compiled an excellent primer on electronica and some of its top artists. However, Fatboy Slim is conspicuously absent from that list and deserves to be added.
It remains to be seen what Fatboy Slim will produce next, but I am pleased to report this compilation is a worthy addition to any music lover's music library.
- Rockafeller Skank
- Praise You
- Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook remix) by Cornershop
- Weapon of Choice
- Gangster Trippin
- I See You Baby (Fatboy Slim remix) by Groove Armada
- Wonderful Night
- Right Here, Right Now
- Going Out Of My Head
- Sunset (Bird of Prey)
- Everybody Loves a Carnival
- Don't Let The Man Get You Down
- Sho Nuff
- Slash Dot Dash
- Santa Cruz
- Champion Sound
- That Old Pair of Jeans