The Prodigy, The Fat of the Land, 1997, XL Recordings
Smack My Bitch Up
Fuel My Fire
After last week, I’m not quite ready to give up on electronic music, but I do think we need to speed things up a little. Say hello to Essex boys The Prodigy. Having formed in 1990 when Keith Flint asked DJ Liam Howlett to make him a mixtape when they met at a rave, the band made breakbeat a commercial success by bringing a rock mentality and aesthetic to the rave scene. The Fat of The Land was their third album and their first to break into the American market. It entered both the US and UK album charts at number 1 and had been certified double platinum before the end of 1997.
Smack My Bitch Up initially sounds like it’s going to be a standard rock song until the beat kicks in. The third single release from the album, though lyrically controversial (The band always insisted that they weren't advocating violence but encouraging people to be intense about everything they do) is just so compelling that you can’t help but move to it. Number 1 single Breathe has the coolest intro, it sounds like it’s plucked straight out of a gangster movie soundtrack and the frenetic, punky atmosphere created continues throughout the distortion heavy track. Diesel Power has rapper Kool Keith as it’s guest vocalist and so it feels like a classic 1980s rap track with some more interesting beats in the background. Funky Shit is pretty much what it says on the tin, just fun electronica to dance to. It also seagues perfectly into the aggressive Serial Thrilla. Mindfields, with it’s twangy beat, heavy drums, pacman sound-a-like bits and interesting samples is probably my favourite track. Narayan features Kula Shaker frontman Crispian Mills on vocals but despite the sanskrit it’s about as far from a Kula Shaker track as you could hope for it to get. 9 minutes seems a bit too much for it though. Firestarter is their most famous song and that punky beat is just as intoxicating as you remember. Climbatize soars as it starts, there are even flutes in this one and the bassline seems to roll along as if it’s on a wave. It feels beautiful throughout and is the most delicate track, if this band can ever really be accused of delicacy. The album closes with Fuel My Fire all heavy drums and anger (and a tiny bit of wurlitzer piano, because I suppose, why not?), it’s a true punk-dance crossover.
The constantly changing vocalists keep things fresh, but as there are barely any lyrics you really get to appreciate the beats and the samples and how it’s all been weaved together, indeed the vocal elements are completely secondary to what is being created with the machine
s.The album is frenetic and wears you out. It fizzes with energy and anger. It’s a definite departure from the happy Ecstasy fuelled rave culture it came from. The Prodigy’s success also shows that as Britpop died there was a market for something with a much harder edge and whether you call it trip hop, electro punk or one of it’s many other names, the genre caught the zeitgeist.
Prodigy fans would probably cite Music For The Jilted Generation as the better of the band’s two most successful albums but The Fat of the Land truly opened the door for fans of other genres and was a bit more accessible to them, especially rock and metal fans.
The Prodigy influenced a lot of other electro and rock bands including Basement Jaxx, Skrillex and Audio Bullys. Perhaps the best example of their importance to British music though could be seen at the funeral of Keith Flint following his death in March this year. Thousands of fans lined the mile and a half of streets that his funeral procession passed through in his home town and then held a rave in his honour. There’s no doubt that it’s exactly what he would have wanted.