So hard to believe it’s been 20 years today since Fatboy Slim released his classic You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby. This album was inescapably ubiquitous in the late 90s but it still sounds fresh and exciting today. And unless you were part of the scene, no one had really heard anything like it when it hit.
October 19, 1998, Fatboy Slim introduced the world to the Big Beat genre. In truth, the introduction had come about four months earlier with the release of lead single, “The Rockafeller Skank,” which blew up the airwaves the previous summer. But You’ve Come A Long Way Baby showed that what should have been a singles-only genre could produce albums that were top-quality from front-to-back. Not only that, but despite the occasionally repetitious samples littered throughout, the disc continues to have massive replay value – Norman Cook packs so much into every cut that there is something new to hear each time you listen.
“The Rockefeller Skank” was followed in January ’99 by “Praise You” which, thanks in large part to the endless rotation on MTV, went to #2 on the US Alternative Charts and propelled the album to gold and platinum status around the world, going four-times-platinum in the UK alone.
I was a big fan of techno music in the early ’90s, enjoying the music more than the scene. But where a lot of techno could be accurately described as soulless repetition (a positive or negative, depending on how you felt about it), Fatboy Slim created something in You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby that set it completely apart. Though it was clearly made using turntables, computers, samplers, et cetera, there was a real sense of musicianship behind the songs. This wasn’t a bunch of cold bloops and bleeps over a harsh electronic drumbeat. Norman Cook’s songs had a lifelike quality that I’d never experienced in machine-made music before.
Even now it stands out as a work of inspired innovation. It was called Big Beat for a reason, and the album is jam-packed with sampled drummers instead of electronic drumbeats, and this is in large part responsible for making this music more human and less robotic. There is also a “bounce” aesthetic throughout the record that creates a spectacularly upbeat experience. I know “bounce aesthetic” isn’t really a thing, but I couldn’t come up with a better way to describe the sound.
Most of all, it sounds like Mr. Slim had a blast making this. It is difficult to imagine him sitting at a laptop cursing over his attempts to finalize mixes and splices and cutting out uncleared samples, but my own limited experience with making electronic music as a hobby suggests that such a scenario is inevitable. No matter, the resulting artwork shows no signs of stress or frustration – it all flows perfectly while exuding positive vibes throughout.
This is one of those sub-genres I always thought would be bigger than it ended up being. Big Beat became a footnote in a decade remembered for grunge and arena-rock. But while I gobbled up all I could find back then (and still seek out new stuff), there isn’t another album like it that comes close to meaning as much to me as this one, none that I go back to listen to as complete albums. You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby is an excellent trip every time I take it and it’s never the same road twice.