It appears this year's big musical question --
will electronica music led by English techno act Prodigy finally
go over big in North America -- has been answered.
At least for the time being.
Prodigy's third album, The Fat Of The Land, debuted last week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and in the top spot in 22 countries overall, including Canada.
Not even Oasis has managed that feat yet. In fact, only seven other British acts have gone straight to No. 1 in the U.S.
"It's really funny 'cause we've gone No. 1 in places we've never been to," says Prodigy member Leeroy Thornhill on the phone from his Essex home.
"It's strange, hard to believe really," continues Thornhill, the band's 6-foot-6 dancer.
"I don't really think it's quite sunk in. We haven't tried to set out and become this big commercial thing. We've put out an album that had 10 tracks that we all really were into. We weren't like, 'Oh, we've got to try and put these sort of tracks in 'cause they're fashionable.' It's just the Prodigy sound. "
Helping pave the way for the band, formed by songwriter and instrumentalist Liam Howlett during the late '80s-early '90s healthy rave scene, was the advance hype.
Every major mainstream newspaper and magazine in North America did Prodigy articles before the June 30 release of The Fat Of The Land. The hit single Firestarter also obviously helped spur first week sales. This week Fat sits at a more than respectable No. 3.
"We just try and calm it down," says Thornhill of the hoopla.
" 'You're the saviors of rock. You're the best live band in the world.' You don't have to say that. People make their minds up. If someone says you're the best at something, you can't go any further, you go down. No one wants to save rock. Rock's good. America's saying, 'Yeah, they're the new thing. Electronica's going to take over rock.' No one wants that. Everyone likes rock in the dance music scene. "
Still, Thornhill confirms Prodigy turned down U2's offer to open their PopMart tour because "We don't want to be brought to America and thrown in front of millions and millions of people at big gigs, because people won't get the full experience. We said, 'Thanks guys, but no thanks really.' It's such a sign of respect to be asked. At the moment, we feel like we're strong enough to stand on our own two feet. "
Still, these are early days for the three-week-old Fat Of The Land album, and Prodigy, despite having toured in North America five times, are still an unproven live act, at least in Toronto where their May show at Arrow Hall in Mississauga was underwhelming.
"Soundwise they're always a bit ropey, hangars like that," acknowledges Thornhill.
Fortunately, Prodigy may return in the fall.
In the meantime, they have just started three and a half weeks of touring with Lollapalooza through mid-America.
"That'll be scary," says Thornhill. "There will be a lot of places I won't be going out. "
The band may also have a battle on its hands with its next single, the unfortunately-named Smack My Bitch Up, which had to go under the title Smack My B**** Up on CD covers in the U.S.
"That's planet America for you," says Thornhill. "People take things too literally. If you said to a girl -- 'change my pitch up, smack my bitch up' -- she probably wouldn't understand what 'change my pitch up,' means. It just works. It's just a hook. That's the only thing behind it. The bitch is the music, not a girl thing. A lot of the girls I know say that's their favorite track. There is no message in Prodigy music really, it's just an expression of hardness. We're not trying to put messages in about 'It's cool to beat up women,' because that's just pathetic. "