“Like a visit to a chitlin-circuit roadhouse along the Information Superhighway…”

With a title borrowed from a advertising tag line for Virginia Slims tobacco (see the link there?) and featuring a now-iconic image of an obese young man on the cover in a ‘I’m #1 So Why Try Harder’ t-shirt, Fatboy Slim’s You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby remains one of the groundbreaking albums of the 90s.

The album celebrates its 20th anniversary today, 19 October.

Here’s what music critics of the time had to say about it…

ROLLING STONE, Robert Christgau, 3/5

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.

MUZIK, Kevin Braddock

While Gangsta Tripping and his excitable mixes of Brimful of Asha and Renegade Master stuck rigidly to party hip hop rules, Rockafeller Skank was ‘dance’ music in that huge numbers of people danced to it. In every other sense, it was an oddly-shaped pop hit which sounds like jungle, reggae, surf rock, Northern soul and hip hop pogoing in front of the DJ booth.

Whether it’s the perfect fusion of pop and dance remains to be seen, but few people in the Western Hemisphere can claim not to have been kept awake with a ‘Right about now/The funk soul brother’ mantra revolving in their semi-consciousness.

SPIN, Peter Shapiro

Maybe everyone and their funk soul brother has ravaged all the thrift stores from here to Timbuktu in search of grist for their irony mill, but no one has done it with more obvious glee and less apparent irony than Fatboy Slim.

With nary a subtlety in earshot, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby pilfers sounds from just about everybody worth robbing, generating the kind of visceral thrills normally reserved for a wrestling match. As the man himself says, “If this don’t make your booty move, you’re dead.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, David Browne, B+

Even on routine tracks, Cook adds splashy samples of rock guitars, electro-funk synths, or reggae licks — anything he can to pump…you…up. “Praise You,” the album’s other outright gem, lifts a languid snippet of soul-gospel singer (and kids’-book author) Camille Yarborough’s “Take Yo Praise” and makes it a techno mantra — Des’ree for the ecstasy crowd. Cook also loves to work soul oldies into his computer-generated raves: The riotous “Soul Surfing” is like a visit to a chitlin-circuit roadhouse along the Information Superhighway.

Other than the way it deftly blends obscure records, there’s nothing subtle about Fatboy Slim. “Baby” is clever, hectic, relentless — and very of its time. It’s music desperate to be noticed above the din of TV, movies, the Net, and the zillions of other records out there. Pop culture, meet your needy spawn.

NME, 8/10

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.

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.

Q MAGAZINE, David Roberts

Anybody familiar with the currently all-pervasive genre that The Chemical Brothers first made fashionable will recognise the formula to be followed here. Big beat is dance music making the indie crossover at its most accessible point: bolshy, stomping, squelching stuff that you either shuffle your feet to, wave your arms in the air with or simply pogo up and down on the spot to, depending on the mood and mix-it-all-up mayhem being created.

This being Fatboy Slim’s take on the proceedings, it also comes with a Cheshire cat-sized slice of grinning humour thrown in too. You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (a title nicked from an old cigarette advertisement) charges towards the moshiest area of the dancefloor right from the off, as the thundering drums of Right Here Right Now storm out the speakers. Huge-selling single The Rockafeller Skank is up next, staking its claim to mark the high point of big beat to date as it takes Northern Soul on a tripped-out, twanging surfing holiday somewhere off Wigan Pier.

It’s simple, unsubtle, soaraway stuff with a sell-by date that probably won’t be difficult to read for much longer. But right about now, it works.

[Image taken from Fatboy Slim’s website, www.fatboyslim.net]

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