By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Norman Cook's pure-pop pleasures do not last beyond...quick, now. You can listen to his music--a concoction of distorted samples and big-beat throwdowns--all day and all night, and still it doesn't last beyond the moment when everything goes silent. Then again, that's the whole point: At his best, Cook creates for the moment, captures the instant. That's why it's all such a rush--the vocals that dive and rise out of nowhere beneath beats so big and phat they break the scale, the Autobahn melodies that race by as though they were never there, the samples you recognize but can't...quite...place, damn it. Cook knows this music's so disposable that it ought to come with an expiration date and a Hefty bag; he's a bandwagon-jumping former pop star, for God's sake, a guy who left behind the Housemartins and hopped behind a turntable when he realized the future of pop was in culling from its past. He knows the transience of music, that in 20 years' time some kid will pull apart his montages and sample the samples. So he lives for today, because tomorrow he's nothing but an old man and a songwriting credit. Just ask Pete Townshend, whose guitar riff from "I Can't Explain" became the basis for last year's should-be hit "Going Out of My Head."
Which is why it's so odd that You've Come a Long Way, Baby isn't half the giddy fun of its predecessor, last year's Better Living Through Chemistry. From jump-start ("Song for Lindy") to finish line ("Michael Jackson," co-opted by Coca-Cola for its TV ads), BLTC proved you could make stupid sound smart while taking dance-floor to the radio. Cook seemed to be building each song as he went, piling beat upon beat until the whole house of cards felt as though it would collapse beneath so much weight; but no chance, because music this lightweight floats before it crumbles. Too bad, then, that Cook felt You've Come A Long Way, Baby should have more depth to it; he should know you can't turn the wading pool into the Pacific Ocean no matter how hard ya dig.
Nothing here, save the ubiquitous single "The Rockafeller Skank" (its sole lyrics: "Right about now, tha funk soul brutha/Check it out now, tha funk soul brutha"), has the insistency, the urgency, and the decadent fun of, say, "Give the Po' Man a Break" or "Everybody Needs a 303" from the debut. The opening "Right Here, Right Now," with its backward-looped strings and goosestep ambience, is music for after the party; it kicks the disc off with a wave bye-bye. Then, after the mod-not-modern "Build It Up--Tear It Down" and "Kalifornia," the disc settles like down into background music, which is, like, a bad idea when you're trying to get the room to dance till dawn. Free your ass, and your mind will follow? Not a good idea at all.
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