With perhaps the exception of Russell Brand massacring a song from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, the most bizarre sight at the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony was the arrival of Fatboy Slim DJing inside a giant inflatable octopus. Completely random it may have been, but as one of the few acts to inject a sense of energy in the rather lacklustre show, it reminded audiences worldwide of just how thrilling his sample-heavy big-beat sound was.
Indeed, largely missing in action during the latter half of the 00s, it’s easy to forget just how pivotal a role Norman Cook and his various guises played in the British dance scene, from the soul-funk of Beats International and Freakpower to the club anthems of Pizzaman and The Mighty Dub Katz. But of course, it was 1998’s You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby, the second album under his most famous alter-ego that shaped his career.
Often overshadowed by the videos which accompanied its five singles, from Roman Coppola blowing up random objects, to Hammer & Tongs’ inspired four-minute evolution lesson, to most famously Spike Jonze’s un-coordinated flash-mob, the album’s 11 tracks aren’t really held in the same regard as the likes of, say, The Prodigy’s Fat Of The Land or The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole. But listening to it 14 years on, and it still sounds as fresh and as vibrant as the late 90s’ more celebrated electronic records.
Named after a marketing slogan for cigarette brand Virginia Slims, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby’s never-ending supply of loops and samples are admittedly at their most effective on its most famous tracks, whether it’s the gospel-tinged breakbeat of “Praise You,” the string-soaked cinematics of “Right Here Right Now” or the surf-guitar wizardry of “The Rockafeller Skank.”
But there’s plenty that still holds up today elsewhere. “Kalifornia” is an appropriately trippy slice of squelchy funk featuring a robotic chant of ‘Kalifornia is druggy,’ “Acid 8000” is an authentic old-school rave epic, whilst “Soul Surfing” in an inspired fusion of 60s rock n roll and 90s ragga. And while the aimless “You’re Not From Brighton” and the juvenile profanity-laden “F***ing In Heaven” (which features the F word a record-breaking 108 times) prove Fatboy Slim wasn’t averse to the odd bout of self-indulgent knob-twiddling, they’re the only misses on an album which despite not being taken that seriously, remains one of the defining of the big-beat era.