Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Prodigy-The Fat of the Land

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/23/09.

After the huge success of 1994's Music for the Jilted Generation, the Prodigy were now becoming one of the leading acts of the burgeoning electronic music scene in Britain. Often coined as electronica, the Prodigy along with a slew of acts were bringing in a new sound of dance music that was filled with big beats, lots of hypnotic synthesizers, and something that even rock audiences can mosh too. It was considered to be the music of the future with some said that rock would be out and electronic music to be in. After a successful tour including a few shows at Lollapalooza in 1996, the Prodigy were clearly getting ready to take charge of the electronica movement where late that year, they released the single for Firestarter.

The single featured a music video that had the band's longtime dancer Keith Flint sporting a new punk look as he also sang lead vocals for the very first time. While Liam Howlett was the group's brainchild, Flint suddenly became the face for the Prodigy as the single managed to become an unexpected hit in the American modern rock charts. The sudden success in America brought attention to the industry and MTV with even bands like U2 and David Bowie jumping in on the burgeoning electronic movement as many were convinced that it was the music of the future. After another single called Breathe was released and became a hit both in the U.K. and U.S. with other electronic acts getting attention. It was clear that 1997 was going to be the year of electronica with the Prodigy leading the way as audience anticipated for the release of the band's third album entitled The Fat of the Land.

Produced by Liam Howlett, The Fat of the Land is an album filled with diverse styles of music ranging from big, industrial beats, trance-induced songs, hardcore dance numbers, and pulsating, heavy electro-rock tracks. Along with vocal contributions from members Keith Flint and Maxim Reality along with guest appearances from Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills, Republica's Saffron, and Ultramagnetic MC's vocalist Kool Keith. Along with contributions from future Pitchshifter guitarist Jim Davies, Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, and Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello on a bonus track. While it doesn't have the consistency or edginess of Music for the Jilted Generation, The Fat of the Land is still a phenomenal album from Liam Howlett and company.

The album opens with its controversial single Smack My Bitch Up which features a sample of the Ultramagnetic MC's song Give The Drummer Some which features the vocals of Kool Keith. With its droning, fuzzy synthesizer and smooth, pulsating beats with cymbal crashes, it features squealing noises and electronic drones. The song's infamous line from Kool Keith, "Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up" is a catchy line though it's heavily edited to make it controversial with its swirling noises of synthesizers and the eerie, trance-like vocals of Indian singer Shahin Badar. The album's second single Breathe that features vocals from Keith Flint and Maxim Reality is a hypnotic yet rhythmic track with big, heavy beats and melodic-flourishing synthesizers. With its throbbing bass line and beats along with scratchy sounds and thrashing guitars for the song's vocal parts sung by Flint and Reality as they trade verses towards each other. It's a song that is intense yet fun to dance to with its arrangements and production.

Diesel Power featuring Kool Keith on vocals and lyrics with its hollow bass-synthesizers that get louder with throbbing, pulsating beats with intense snare tracks. With its trance-like arrangements of bass, beats, and swirling synthesizers, it's Kool Keith's frenetic, intense rapping that really makes the track one of the album's standout cuts. The instrumental track Funky Shit with a voice sample of saying "Oh my God, that's the funky shit" from the Beastie Boys' Root Down as it pops up throughout the track. With its frenetic, warbling synthesizers, scratchy arrangements, and pulsating, throbbing beats, it's an instrumental that is a pure hardcore dance track with its layers of beats, swirling synthesizers, and intense performances. Serial Thrilla is an electro-rocker with industrial-like intensity in its pulsating beats, driving guitars with samples of riffs from the band Skunk Anansie. Yet, it's Keith Flint's punkish vocals and Howlett's layered, scratchy arrangements of driving synthesizers and beats that makes this track another stand out.

Mindfields is a largely-instrumental track with ominous synthesizer arrangements with Oriental-like notes, throbbing beats that come in a mid-tempo rhythm and warbling synthesizer melodies to accompany. Along with Maxim Reality's growling vocals, the track moves back and forth in terms of its production and mix as its sound lowers and then goes back full-on with breaks by Reality's vocals. The nine-minute Narayan with Crispian Mills on vocals is a trance-like track filled melodic synthesizer flourishes that delve into psychedelia. With its pulsating, snare-driven arrangements of beats and warbling, scratchy synthesizer, it's Crispian Mills' vocals filled with psychedelic-induced lyrics that kind of takes the song out of its element. Therefore, Mills' contributions is the only sore spot for the song as it often drags at times despite Howlett's arrangements and performance.

The album's leading single Firestarter that features samples of Art of Noise's Close (To The Edit) and the Breeders' S.O.S. With its blaring, wailing guitar solo, frenetic synthesizers, pulsating beats with additional live drums from Matt Cameron, it's a track that is intense and powerful due to Keith Flint's punkish vocals and angry lyrics. It's also the band's most defining single as it's a song that is a great mix of punk, rock, and electronic music. The instrumental Climbatize is a trance-like track with soothing keyboards and pulsating, hi-hat cymbal taps that is followed by a striking, melodic synthesizer and throbbing bass line. With smooth, tribal beats playing in the background, it's an instrumental that doesn't really do much as it drags the album near its closing momentum. The album's final track is a cover of the L7/Cosmic Psychos song Fuel My Fire is an electro-rocker that features intense, pulsating beats and wailing guitars. Yet, it's a track that sort of works in instrumentation for the most part except for annoying keyboard solo in the middle. What doesn't work is the annoying punk-like vocals from Keith Flint and the extremely backing vocals from Republica's Saffron as it closes the album with a whimper.

Two bonus tracks that appear in the Japanese version of the album includes a B-side and a track from the Spawn film soundtrack. The first is the B-side to Firestarter in Molotov B*tch. The instrumental track features siren-like sounds in the background with throbbing, bass-driven beats that pulsate through the entire track. With its scratchy arrangements and sweeping sounds of synthesizers makes this track a nice B-side proving Howlett's talents in arrangements and production. The second bonus track from the Spawn film soundtrack is track called One Man Army that features guitar work from Tom Morello. The bass-throbbing track with big, pulsating beats, blaring synthesizer sirens and scratchy arrangements includes Morello's scratchy, fuzzy guitar work and raps from an unidentified vocalist. The track is an excellent rarity that shows Howlett's superb arrangements and the superb guitar work of Tom Morello in its fusions for electronic music and rock.

Released in July of 1997, the album was met with a lot of hype and anticipation as it debuted at the top of the album charts in the U.K. and in the U.S. The latter of which was a surprise of sorts due to the hype as it became so far, the only electronic album to reach #1 in the U.S. album charts. Despite the Prodigy's success in America where the album sold two million copies, the American music industry who had hoped that its success would help break electronic music into the American mainstream only failed. Instead, the public consciousness for something lighter and simpler in the aftermath of grunge rock and gangsta rap was answered by the likes of new pop acts like the Spice Girls, Hanson, and the Backstreet Boys while hip-hop got glossier thanks to the likes of Sean "Puffy" Combs. While rock music got safer thanks to bands like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty, another music genre that grabbed the consciousness of the American public as an alternative scene was a ska music revival.

For the so-called electronica movement in America, it was clear that American audiences weren't ready like punk rock music 20 years before then. Though the Prodigy did become massively successful while courting controversy over its song Smack My Bitch Up which included a music video filled with drug use and strong sexual content that offended feminist groups. The Prodigy forged ahead as they toured some shows in the U.S. in 1998 while maintaining their status as electronic music's leading act in the U.K. Yet, the success would also prove problematic with Keith Flint suddenly being the face of the band that overshadowed the talents of its brainchild Liam Howlett.

While it doesn't have the brilliance or consistency of their first two albums, The Fat of the Land is still an excellent album from the Prodigy. While it's regarded as their most accessible work due to their famed singles along with some notable album cuts in the album's first half including Kool Keith's contributions. The album's unevenness in its second half due to a lackluster cover, misguided appearances, and moments where the album drags is what makes the album realize it's not great as people claim it is. Still, it's a fascinating record where at a time, people thought that electronic music would replace rock music. Yet, today, it remains an underground sensation with some moments appearing in the mainstream though still manages to remain daring and uncompromising. In the end, despite its flaws, The Fat of the Land is still a stellar yet fun album from the Prodigy.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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