Sydney Sun Herald

The Prodigy Have Returned

And, as Peter Holmes reports, the original Firestarter wants to avoid controversy at the Big Day Out.

The Prodigy's Liam Howlett had been watching NSW burn from his Essex home in mid-winter England, and was perturbed by the hazy brown and flickering orange images filling his TV screen. How close was the fire to the city centre, he wanted to know. Were the arsonists protesting against something? What happens to the animals in the bush?

And finally, Howlett wondered whether the Prodigy should shelve their global hit "Firestarter" as the BDO on Saturday. Ravers-cum-electro-punks, after all, have standards. "It's not going to go down too well is it?" Howlett asked. "It's just bizarre. Someone mentioned it to me the other day and said, 'What are you going to do??', and I said, 'Well, for a start, the song isn't about lighting fires'. But in a literal sense you can't help thinking... "

Such is the burden you carry when your band, after two albums' worth of songs with titles such as "One Love", :Jericho", "Hyperspeed" and "Your Love", rolls out a third containing the ditties "Firestarter" and "Smack my Bitch Up".

The former had Prodigy facing claims of irresponsibility and from US and UK firefighting groups. The latter song's lyrics "Change my pitch up/Smack my bitch up" were based around a sample from the Ultramagnetic MC's song "Give the Drummer Some", (original lyrics: "Smack my bitch up/Like a pimp").

The Prodigy explained "Smack my Bitch Up" away variously as being nonsense, about football or psyching oneself up. Nonetheless, it had American groups and businesses, including the National Organisation of Women, the feminists of Coalition Chorus, Wal-Mart and Kmart, foaming at the mouth. The Beastie Boys and Chambawamba weighed in to condemn the Prodigy, as did Howlett's old mate Moby.

"To be honest I never felt there was any air to clear [with Moby]" Howlett said. "He is American, and if you take SMBU and Firestarter, the two most controversial records we've put out, the only people that ever moaned about them was Americans. It didn't surprise me a bit. "The Beastie Boys complained about it, Moby complained about it, you know, f*** it, who cares? I don't care. Moby is a nice guy and I've been friends with him for years. He used to be a churchgoing person, very religious, but I think he discovered rock'n'roll and drinking again and I guess he thought he'd have a go at the big bad Prodigy. We've got some new songs for him to have a moan at. "

And not before time. The Prodigy have not released a new collection of studio
material since 1997's multimillion-selling "The Fat of the Land", with the only
relief for the long suffering fans being Howlett's mix album "Dirtchamber
Sessions" in 1999.

As the brains behind most of the Prodigy's music, Howlett runs the band at his own pace from his home-based Earthbound Studio. Since the last album, dancer Leeroy has bailed out, Keith Flint has taken up avante garde guitar and Howlett has become engaged to All Saints' Natalie Appleton.

"The whole touring thing got to him [Leeroy] and he didn't want to dance anymore," Howlett said. "We asked if he wanted to do something else, like drums. So he went and bought a drum kit and never really bothered to learn. He decided enough was enough and we said 'If you're going to leave, the best time is now'. "

As for Keith Flint's six string prowess, Howlett explained that while Flint is contributing to the Prodigy's new album, it is too soon for the budding axe hero to be flashing his wares publicly.

"He still can't play, but that's the point" Howlett said. "If I wanted a guitar player who played really well I'd find someone who could do that, but the idea of this band is DIY" "I like that Keith can't really play the guitar and that what he plays isn't musical. It forces him to play in a style which is very, um, manic really, and it gets really good results... " "He's been throwing me loads of bits and pieces over the last few months to put into the songs. It's been refreshing to hear one of the band actually putting in some musical ideas. " Live though, is a no-go. "He's not ready to play live," Howlett said. "We've talked about it and maybe the next time we go out in England in six months he might play"

Howlett admitted that while he had previously been able to slip under the radar of the UK tabloids, things had changed since his engagement to pop star Appleton. "You do get the press outside your door when certain things happen," he said. "I mean, her sister goes out with Mr Oasis, so sometimes it's hard to avoid certain press. But it's cool, I don't get involved in it.

The prodigy play at the Big Day Out on Saturday.

Jump to articles main | Prodigy main