THEATRICAL: The Prodigy going global
8th August 1997
To momentarily interrogate the shorthand, are The Prodigy really the new punk rock? Does their dance-rock hybrid represent a cleansing process comparable to the youthquake which, in 1976, exploded across a Britain laid waste by an exhausted Labour government, the hottest summer this century and Dutch Elm Disease?
The Prodigy certainly wouldn't exist were it not for punk - their good parent-worrying work today is an extension of what the art boys started two decades ago - but why glorify them by dragging them back to Year Zero? The Prodigy are important now, because they work. For a great many people.
In 1990, the disco press accused them of killing rave, when they hit Number 3 with what the rock mediascenti saw as a novelty single but was actually a time-capsule club anthem gone perilously overground (Charly, after the mewling Public Information Film cat). This beginning makes their inexorable rise to global significance all the more gripping. The Essex quartet's first two albums each achieved something noteworthy on dance music's behalf:Experience (1992) went gold when wisdom declared rave a singles-only deal,and Music For A Jilted Generation (1994), a Number 1, was MercuryPrize-nominated, further legitimising techno's racket. Since then, withmascot and extreme-noise terrier Keith Flint pushed centre-stage (quietnucleus Liam Howlett "does" the music ), The Prodigy have swallowed thecharts whole, both Firestarter and Breathe hitting number 1 for more than aweek, the latter selling 1.5 million copies worldwide.
Both are here: Firestarter's sheer malevolence and Breathe's bone-crunchingsense of theatre ("You're the victim!") form The Fat Of The Land's firsttouchstones. The remaining eight tracks are cut from a similar, rough-hewncloth. Squalling industrial hokum, jabbering electronica, distressed catnoises, punctuation courtesy of our old pal the sampled "Hey!" - TheProdigy's is a dark, unyielding, gothic noise that manages to keep both feetout of its mouth by dint of pure, untamed energy.
A spat-out, Lydonesque Flint vocal is always welcome (Serial Thrilla, SmackMy Bitch Up) as are excursions out of dirty rap (Funky Shit, Diesel Power)into more considered, Kraftwerkian cinema (Mindfields, Climbatise, Narayan,a chanter featuring Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills). And lo, there is punk inthis record's hard-boiled soul - for it cares not a jot what the consensussays. Ironically, judging by the world's apparently multilateral desire forKeith Flint to dance on its chest, the consensus currently has The Fat OfThe Land earmarked as a more important release than either U2's Pop orRadiohead's OK Computer. Keep all pets indoors - it is.
***** (Indispensable. Truly exceptional)