Review Summary: Ban this sick fire record!
Just days after The Fat Of The Land
was dropped on an unsuspecting audience did The Mail on Sunday post that delightful little headline all across their front page. There are truly few bands that have been able to conjure up such an iconic headline. Two decades earlier The Sex Pistols achieved the same feat, with The Daily Mirror proclaiming in big bold letters “The filth and the fury”, right across the banner. And just as the case was back then, The Mail on Sunday went on a full blown campaign to rid the airwaves on what they proclaimed to be ‘audio filth’. Luckily, this little smear campaign had the good sense to backfire on itself, and just as the case was 20 years ago, The Prodigy used this new found attitude against them to their advantage and managed to work their way into the very fabric of their country. Not considered a small feat by anyone, but then again this was The Prodigy.
To understand The Fat Of The Land
, one needs to understand the times and tribulations that resulted in its birth. Starting off a rave outfit in the late 80’s and early 90’s the band were recognized as an outfit that combined the unexpected and turned it into something wholly original, there were interesting and amazing vibes radiating off everything they touched and the fans wanted more, were entranced by their every move, and were anxious new material. Then came the infamous British crackdown on the entire rave scene, forcing many established acts and their followers underground and out of the way. The notoriety of the incident inspired The Prodigy’s sophomore effort, 94’s effort Music For The Jilted Generation
. A raised middle finger to the government as well as an invitation to the desensitized rave masses looking for their big fix, it introduced a darker dynamic to the group and brought forth ideas and sounds that would eventually become staples of The Prodigy archetype. But while introducing a punk rock aesthetic into their sound, it kept it’s origins firmly in sight with tracks such as ‘Full Throttle’, ‘One Love’ and ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ being merely extensions of their earlier breakthrough songs. In the resulting time off from the subsequent touring cycle, a strange think happened: electronica took on a life of its own and found itself a new home, on the radio. Commercialized acts emerged on the scene, merely carbon copy groups of the genre’s founders, who in the process of selling records worldwide, were destroying the genre from the inside. Something needed to change, a rude awakening needed to take place, and one band knew just how to do it. And then on June 30th 1997 it happened, The Fat Of The Land
was released. Not only incinerating the dance communities, it turned the entire music world upside down. The newly stylized cyber punks had returned, and with them came the world’s first electronic rock record. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the most dangerous album to come out of England since The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks
There’s no pretension to this album, no slick intro’s or interludes involved; all that are present here are 10 of the most explosive ‘dance’ tracks ever recorded, put together in a tight and cohesive manner. There’s no carry over, no self indulgent rehashing of themes; each track on offer is identified by its own singular and distinguished sound. Filled to the brim with ingenious hooks and a huge pile of character there was never a chance that it would, or could ever be, overlooked. The album represents Liam Howlett’s best work, not just to that date, but right up until day. Across the board everything Liam put out on this record is phenomenal, whether it be deftly distorting the hell out of guitars, or turning keyboard samples in on themselves, the production work was unrivalled at the time, and still remains a huge influence to this very day. Expanding on ideas introduced on their last effort, the boys drop in a hefty amount of punk rock and industrial aesthetics as well into their melting pot of noise. Whether it be the Skunk Anansie sampling on ‘Serial Thrilla’, with it’s “take no prisoners attitude” (provided by Keith Flint in all his Johnny Rotten swagger), and it’s massive pulse fest of wall of sound guitars; or the iconic looped guitar sample on “Firestarter”, it was clear that The Prodigy were playing with something new here. This was the sound of the future, happening right now, and the excitement of this album seeps through on every track.
Most people are familiar with the breakout singles on this album, and so they should be. ‘Breathe’ with it’s almost paranoid feel hits hard, and creates a perfect sonic landscape of crushing bass and static coated guitars. And of course there’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, a track that truly needs no introduction. Inspired by English radio’s earlier reluctance to play anything by the group until both ‘Breathe’ and ‘Firestarter’ went supernova, BBC Radio and the like quickly did an about face and proclaimed the group messiahs for the electronic sound. Not one to take irony and hypocrisy without a grin on his face, Liam sought to create an equally mind melting track but wrap it around a ubiquitous sample that would normally topple like a house of cards. The trick paid off, the fans leapt all over it and the radio stations had to submit to demands and play it. With its Ultramagnetic MC’s sampling of ‘Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up’, and its subsequent video, it remains one of the most controversial mainstream singles ever.
But every track on here truly deserves a mention. Kool Keith drops by (as opposed to being sampled) and lays down a typically funky vibe for ‘Diesel Power’, a percussion driven song that conjures up images of dimly lit subways and steam drenched rooms. ‘Funky ***’ lives and breathes through it’s quintessential mid 90’s vibe. Fusing cutting edge breakbeat with piercing sirens it’s a descent into an e tinged voyage, never lightening up or decreasing in its fury, paranoid and high in tone throughout the whole ride. And ‘Mindfields’ with it’s continuation of Jilted Generation
’s ‘Poison’ produces an almost barren feel, conjuring up images of deserted plains and cities devoid of life. A concrete jungle, the only sounds being Maxim’s vocals echoing off the smoke stained walls. Then Liam hits us with a big 3 punch combo, beginning with ‘Narayan’. A steady beat plows its way throughout this song as an inspired keyboard line tumbles its way around the listener’s ears. It’s all incredibly effective, and somewhat soothing at the same time, especially when the music halts and gives way to an inspired chant session. And then we move straight into ‘Firestarter’, The Prodigy’s biggest hit to date. It’s loud, it’s in your face, dark and pulverizing in such a beautiful manner, this song will engulf you. And then out of the rubble emerges ‘Climbatize’, a Middle Eastern influenced number that introduces hand percussion and flutes into the mix. It’s a very progressive sounding cut, with layers and layers of sonic ambience being added to the rolling bass line, building into an almost transcending crescendo before it fades away. And then we’re left with ‘Fuel My Fire’, a punk fueled number, that while a great little track in it’s own right with it’s almost b grade horror movie sounding keyboards, comes across as a little underwhelming being the album closer. It would’ve been better served somewhat more to the middle of the album, and let the final bell toll fall to ‘Climbatize’. But then it’s over, silence engulfs you and normalcy is restored. And as your pulse returns to normal ask yourself: how fast was that ride?
Despite the genre, this is an album that will appeal to just about everyone. Throughout these 10 tracks lies an array of audio genius, attention grabbing tracks and an overall addictive quality. Now, to say this is an album that just misses the classic status would be fair to say; ‘Fuel My Fire’ does fall short of the mark, and both ‘Serial Thrilla’ and ‘Mindfields’ don’t hold up as well as the rest, but this is an album that everyone needs to hear. Forget any assumptions you may have about the whole ‘electronic’ scene, this is a bona fide rock album masquerading as something more. It’s sinister, brooding and full in atmosphere, and to say that you need to hear this; well if that doesn’t justify a “classic” album, then what does?