Fatboy Slim's debut album, Better Living Through Chemistry, was one of the surprises of the big beat revolution of 1996 -- an eclectic blowout, all tracked to thunderous loops and masterminded by Norman Cook, a former member of the British pop band the Housemartins. It might not have been as startlingly fresh as the Chemical Brothers, but the hard-hitting beats and catchiness, not to mention consistency, of Better Living was a shock, and it raised expectations for Fatboy Slim's second album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby. And that record itself was something of a surprise, since it not only exceeded the expectations set by the debut, but came damn close to being the definitive big beat album, rivaling the Chemicals' second record, Dig Your Own Hole. The difference is, Cook is a record geek with extensive knowledge and eclectic tastes. His juxtapositions -- the album swings from hip-hop to reggae to jangle pop, and then all combines into one sound -- are wildly original, even if the music itself doesn't break through the confines of big beat. Then again, when a record is this forceful and catchy, it doesn't need to break new stylistic ground -- the pleasure is in hearing a master work. And there's no question that Cook is a master of sorts -- You've Come a Long Way, Baby is a seamless record, filled with great imagination, unexpected twists and turns, huge hooks, and great beats. It's the kind of record that gives big beat a good name.
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Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine