Soon after the release of ‘Experience’ the rave scene turned sour. Draconian anti-noise measures were placed on legal raves and government legislations were put in place that would outlaw the free party vibe forever. The government proposed its Criminal Justice Bill that would turn an entire generation of people into criminals overnight. Unwittingly the simple act of dancing in a field to a loud sound system had become a political act. Even more unwittingly The Prodigy would become figureheads for this politicisation when they released their second album ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ in July 1994.
It was the beginning of 1994, The Prodigy had scored six Top 20 hits in the UK, they’d been awarded a gold disc for ‘Experience’, they’d toured through much of the world and still their average age was only 23. However the next task of taking things forward now fell squarely upon Liam’s shoulders. For the first time since the band started they took a lengthy rest from their constant performing so that Liam could get to work on the next album. He knew he had to move things beyond the limitations of the rave arena, and in the process of taking the Prodigy live experience around the globe he had come into close contact with bands that had excited him in a way that reminded him of the early days of the free parties. Bands like Rage Against the Machine and Jane’s Addiction who had a vibe and an energy that he immediately hooked into.
“When we were doing all of these shows in America I started listening to a lot more guitar based stuff.” he explains. “Up until then I’d always ignored anything that was in any way rock because it just meant leather jackets and greasy hair to me. Then I heard the first Rage album and it just blew me away.”
Originally penciled in as the potentially more controversial ‘Music for Joy Riders’, the album Music for the Jilted Generation was a far more assured, experimental and eclectic journey than that offered on the debut album. The album’s
intro employed an appropriation of dialogue from the film The Lawnmower Man, featuring the sound of someone hammering away at a typewriter before announcing: “So I’ve decided to take my music back underground, to stop it falling into the wrong hands”.
It was a statement of intent for Liam. No longer was he a part of any particular scene, The Prodigy had transcended any limitations imposed by particular genres, instead he took whatever he wanted, from whichever genre he wanted, in order to create music that was The Prodigy and not a representation of a particular scene. In a sense therefore the theme of the album was less ‘party’ than ‘personal’ politics.
The subsequent range of styles, tempos and flavours was breathtaking. From the darkly brooding delinquency of ‘Break and Enter’ to the hard and fast techno metal of ‘Their Law’ (which featured post-grebo sample hooligans Pop Will Eat Itself), from the up tempo techno soundtrack rush of ‘Speedway’ to the down tempo b-boy grooves of ‘Poison’ the album displayed Liam’s abilities to be far reaching.
One of the most outstanding aspects of “…Jilted…” was Liam’s creative freedom that enabled him to explore ideas unhindered. Nowhere is this clearer than on the concept section of the album. Collectively called ‘The Narcotic Suite’, it was made up of three separate tracks which moved from the sixties film noire soundtrack of ‘3 Kilos’, through the techno hedonism of ‘Skylined’ and then into the deep, suffocating grooves of ‘Claustrophobic Sting’. A sequence of tracks that saw Liam moving through styles with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of both his sources and his ambitions. Elsewhere ‘Voodoo People’ captured a 1970’s James Bond car chase with its insistent flute refrain and churning guitar riff.
The album’s release in July ‘94 was met by a hugely positive response from fans and critics alike. For those who had followed the band this album mirrored an almost collective growth. The so-called summers of love had turned out to offer little more than hollow ideals. Furthermore ravers had grown up since the early days and the Prodigy had grown right alongside their contemporaries.
Music for the Jilted Generation entered the the UK chart at #1 and remained in the top twenty for four months after its release, going gold after only two weeks. It was at this point the most successful underground dance album of all time and a few months later it was shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Award. Despite losing out to ‘middle of the road’ house sounds of M People, the guest critics for the television coverage were almost unanimous in their praise for ‘Jilted’ with journalist Miranda Sawyer describing it as “the only modern sounding album” among the nominees. Where ‘Experience’ proved that a singles oriented dance act could produce a great, era-defining album, Music for the Jilted Generation is the set that truly set out the cultural terrain for the music scene of the years that followed. It remains the blueprint for dance acts with a taste for rock, and rock acts with a love of electronic music. It has inspired and invigorated everyone from The Chemical Brothers to The Beastie Boys, Oasis to Gorillaz. It counts among its fans Dave Grohl, Klaxons, Jay-Z and Pendulum. Newer bands like 30 Seconds To Mars and CSS cite the album as much as old warhorses like Paul McCartney and Bono. ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ is in every sense the first album to truly reach beyond the UK dance scene and reach cross genre, generational and ideological divides. It’s still only true representation of Britain in the mid-90’s (no retro rock Brit Pop or record company manufactured fodder here). It remains a brilliant all-reaching act of genius that will continue to inspire artists young and old to reach way beyond their own potential.
Two albums. Two moments in time captured. Both as astonishing today as the day they first hit the streets. It’s time to rediscover The Prodigy.
© MARTIN JAMES 2008