What exactly is a DJ in 1998? Someone who spins at clubs and weddings — or an electronica act that stitches together bits of vintage records to form a new collage, which may be danceable? To Norman Cook, the British club-scene veteran who now records as Fatboy Slim, both definitions blend into an animated whole. “The Rockafeller Skank” — the Fatboy single released this summer and now on his second album, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” — is Cook’s masterstroke of big-beat DJ culture. Underneath a looped vocal snippet from a rap record by Lord Finesse, Cook concocts a constantly morphing undercurrent — from spy-movie guitar to Zeppy drums to an eardrum-piercing squeal. It’s a block-rocking beat that deliciously subverts pop formula, in which lyrics change while the music remains the same.
Little on “Baby” is as extraordinary as that single, but it’s not as if Cook doesn’t try. 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.