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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Prodigy, "The Fat of The Land"

The Prodigy
"The Fat of The Land"
XL (1997)

1001 Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die

The Big Beat electronic music movement is the closest the genre has come to crossing over into rock or hip-hop. Whereas industrial music incorporated enough live instrument playing to be rock, Big Beat names like Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers (both of whom we've seen before) merely sampled those instrumentals in, albeit with great skill, but The Prodigy pushed the limits of genre the further than anyone.

Many associate with group with punk, despite electronic music being the instrumental opposite of what many punks stand for. Prodigy's provocative, censor-baiting methods invoke comparisons however. Single "Firestarter" and "Serial Thrilla" feature lyrics that extol anarchy and troublemaking (the video for the former promotes arson as well). If there was a political message, the band would virtually be an electronic Sex Pistols. Vocalist Keith Flint made himself over for the album, and his odd spiked coif could even be seen as a tribute to John Lydon.

The fact that the group features lyrics in more than half the tracks on "The Fat of The Land" is rare in itself for an electronic outfit. Flint's vocals on "Firestarter" and "Breathe" are simple and oft-repeated, but it's no sample. "Diesel Power" is a legitimate hip-hop track, as it features multiple verses and a hook, all delivered by Kool Keith of the Ultramagnetic MCs.

Despite the unusual level of attention paid to wordplay, programmer Liam Howlett knows that the music has to make people dance, no matter how aggressive it is. Hence the masterful opening track, and button-pushing single "Smack My Bitch Up." The lyrics are especially simple here, but also the most effective on the album. The titular line, delivered again by Ultramagnetic, sounds like hip-hop culture, but the message is straight punk. And when I say the message, I don't mean Prodigy condoned domestic abuse. I mean Prodigy wanted to give the finger to anyone who suggested they shouldn't use the line. Howlett's aggressive beats could induce raving for some and moshing for others. The seamless tie-in of an Indian vocal melody made this song a must for commercials and movie trailers, even with the controversial content.

This music is just as great for dancing as the products of other Big Beat acts, but that doesn't mean it needs to be cheery. "Breathe" and "Funky Shit" are sinister, but in a propulsive manner. "Naryan," a track that revolves around the Indian musical themes found throughout the album, muses over the fall of Western culture.

1001 Albums features a quote from Howlett: "Here we are, love us or hate us. If that's punk, then we're punks." I don't know if that makes them punks, but after packing such a manifesto on top of great music, they can be whatever they want and the world won't care.

INTERESTING FACT: If you didn't catch on, "Smack My Bitch Up" stirred up some controversy. So much so that British group PRS for Music named it the "most controversial song of all time" in 2010.

Smack My Bitch Up by The Prodigy on Grooveshark

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