Here’s a trio of party bangers to tee up the start of the year. I liked the Prodigy when they were ‘just’ a wild techno group, but I came to really love them when they mixed it all up with metal dynamics and (that old cliché) a chunky punky attitude they just exploded. Hell, they were being covered in Mixmag and Kerrang! simultaneously at one point, 17 years on it can be easy to overlook just what a shock to the system the Prodigy were at the time.
Being one of the hippest individuals ever to draw breath* I bought Firestarter on 12″ the day it came out 18 March 1996, okay I admit it I bought it because of the Molotov granny on the cover and the fact it was pay-day, but still the point is I bought it unheard. Unlike almost every other record I bought similarly I got to sit back and tell anyone who’d listen ‘I told you so’, as it became the record of the year and one of the defining singles of the decade. Its one of those records I’ve just heard so many times that I’d stopped hearing it properly and it is first and foremost a great jarring slamwich of noise and that’s always good in my opinion – Melody? hah, that’s for AOR wusses and folk singers. I remember for years after it came out, whenever there was any scene of drug taking or joyriding on TV ‘Firestarter’ was the inevitable soundtrack choice, it actually felt dangerous at the time. On the 12″ we also got a pointless instrumental version, pointless that is unless, like me, you fancied doing a crap karaoke version in the privacy of your own living room; the well-named but disappointingly messy ‘Molotov Bitch’; an Empirion mix, which was a good fast techno version without the Breeders and Art of Noise samples,
(The track above is the Empirion mix, not the instrumental – Spotify labelled it incorrectly)
Eight months later we got Breathe, which is another delightfully nasty, claustrophobic track. In fact for me it channels those most profane sacred English spirits The Sex Pistols more successfully than anything else I can think of offhand, courtesy of some septic-sounding guitar allied to some, umm, slammin’ beats (including a stealthy Wu Tang sample) and the best sneering committed to record since Mr Lydon got too serious to do it properly anymore. The music fitting the lyrics perfectly. The 12″ threw in a couple of muddy pounding live tracks, which are a bit of a chore, but there’s another neat track called ‘The Trick’, which teams some nifty piano over some ominous beats, which I’d completely forgotten about until today. When they come to film my life I’ll insist that it’s used during one of the many training sequences for my title fights.
By the time that The Fat of the Land was released in June ’97 the Prodigy had hyped us all into fever pitch by playing as many festivals as they could physically get to, dance, rock crowds we all succumbed. I saw them at the V97 Festival in Leeds supported by Beck and the drummer from Nirvana’s new band and they were just immense. Their treble-teaming Mcs/dancers Maxim, Leeroy and Keith Flint just worked the crowd into a frenzy and the sheer size of their beats just bludgeoned us all into ecstatic submission, it was like being knocked cold but by your all-time favourite ever boxer**. Most of the set, as I remember it, revolved around their previous LP Music For The Jilted Generation, which I’d owned but sold on again for being a bit boring and one-dimensional.
When the LP finally landed it was a perfect sounding record for the time. Liam Howlett’s background in hip-hop, before techno, really came to the fore on the LPs best cuts and when you mixed it all in with their more rock flavoured tracks it was just dynamite. The Fat of the Land was an album that sounded perfect driving at night, in fact my vinyl copy is only about six years old, Mrs 1537 (who was even more taken with them than me) bought it on cassette and it lived in our Renault Clio for years.
Whatever you may think of its sexual politics, and I don’t think it was meant as an incitement to domestic violence, you can’t deny the sheer visceral adrenalized thrill of ‘Smack my Bitch Up’. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before when that cassette started spooling and the video did it no harm at all in my eyes. Listening to the LP again now the tracks that really stand out are the ones built on a hip hop chassis, ‘Funky Shit’ and ‘Diesel Power’ particularly, along with the Prodigy-go-psych ‘Narayan’, which I’ve really enjoyed listening to again now. The only track to truly miss a gear for me is the aggro-by-numbers cover of L7’s ‘Fuel My Fire’, which just sounds a bit punk by rote.
Which is not to say that the two dancier tracks, ‘Mindfields’ and ‘Climbatize’ are any slouches, they aren’t, particularly the atmospheric latter. Is it just me or can you envisage giant robots fighting over the scorched remains of a half-destroyed planet, when you hear this? maybe I just need to cut down on the cheese just before bedtime quotient now Christmas is over. Still, come the forthcoming robot apocalypse, if I am consulted by either side over the soundtrack this would be my first choice – I do feel that in a robo-doomsday scenario it’d be vitally important to have a damn cool backing beats. Call me Mr Picky but I, for one, wouldn’t want to vaporised to the sound of One Direction.
Which is as good a point as any to end this stroll down memory lane, well less of a lane more of a dimly-recalled back alley where either a good time, or a mugging awaits in the shadows at the end.
P.S – I forgot to mention that The Fat of the Land has one of my all-time favourite LP covers ever – any bands out there reading this? more crustaceans please.
*Professor, Learned, 1537; Biography of a Cultural Genius (2011), Cambridge University Press.
**Marvin Hagler, since you ask. It would be an honour to be rabbit punched by him.