Fat Boy Slim
Better Living Through Chemistry
Skint/Astralworks

AS ELECTRONIC-HUH? MOVES further away from the dance floor and deeper into the experimental sound lab, a concerted masses-are-asses mentality is fomenting among the same types who, four years ago, would have hit their grandmother over the head with a shovel for some of the fanfare the music is currently receiving. Maybe that's because, despite the music media's hype, sales remain miniscule, even when compared to unassuming grunge-lite swindles, like, say, Matchbox 20. Also troubling is the sad truth that techno's biggest sellers--namely the Prodigy--have systematically subverted rave culture's community politics and groovy ethos, like a gaggle of DEA agents at a Dead show. Right now that basement DJ wannabe down the street--whether illbient intellectual or Prodigy pissant--doesn't give a shit about you, and won't start caring until you give her a "7" in Spin.

So, it's nice to see a techno convert like former Housemartins drummer Norman Cook (a.k.a Fat Boy Slim) hamming out a house music that stays true to the scene's roots--though it also samples the goddamn Who, and pretty shamelessly at that. The giddy "Going Out of My Head" loops Pete Townshend's historic riff from "Can't Explain" around a space-funk tune, transmogrifying '64 mod into '97 postmod. The feel-good mini-epic "Sound of Milwaukee" (sadly, not a polka) loops a Stax organ around a big, flowery beat, and ends up seeming more sound-of-Memphis than Milwaukee.

But Better Living Through Chemistry isn't all paeans to pop punters. A collaboration with Negativland, "Michael Jackson," loops a small boy asking, "Michael Jackson, what have you done?" as sirens blare over a luridly Teutonic tune freaky enough to suggest that whatever MJ did, he probably won't be acquitted. Fat Boy Slim, however, remains absolved. If ever placed in front of the grand jury of assorted techno nationalists and electro-elitists, Fat Boy Slim would only have to drop the EZ listening "Santa Cruz" or the retro-house tune "Everybody Needs a 303," and he'd be scott free. Of course, when we next see him, his 303 may be milkin' Mother Love Bone. But hey, I can't think of a better yob for the job.

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