By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Fat of the Land
There's been a lot of backlash against electronica lately, but that doesn't seem to be the case at the magazine counter this month--Prodigy frontman Keith Flint's mug is all over the place, leering out from even the mighty Rolling Stone.
Ironically, in the beginning techno was the antithesis of rock. What many found attractive and interesting about techno then was the sense of liberation--the vibe was communal, there was no stage, and the DJs thrived on anonymity. But by 1991 that was already changing in the U.K. with Prodigy's "Charly," which was perhaps the first successful attempt at achieving a crossover hit with rave music. Some cried sell-out, but it was bound to happen. By the time Music for a Jilted Generation hit in 1994, Prodigy had succeeded in creating a full-fledged hybrid of rock and rave. Though Music sold minimally here, electronica had its first rock stars.
A much-anticipated and absurdly hyped follow-up to the '96 single "Firestarter," The Fat of the Land is the culmination of Prodigy's efforts, basically the Check Your Head of the late '90s. Opening with the very un-PC "Smack my Bitch Up" (a sample from the Ultramagnetic MCs' "Give the Drummer Some"), Fat starts out with a big "one, two, fuck you" delivered straight from the mulatto bastard child of Johnny Rotten and Chuck D.
Foul-mouthed and abrasive as it is, "Smack my Bitch Up" sets the pace for Fat, but by no means confines it: The collaboration with Kula Shaker vocalist Crispian Mills, "Narayan," retains Prodigy's force while still managing to explore both alternate sounds and mentalities. There's the appearance of Kool Keith ("Dr. Octagon") on "Diesel Power," which could easily double as a dope Chemical Brothers hit. The album is as electrifying as it is menacing. In many respects, it's a final nail in the coffin of the free-lovin' good ol' days when thousands of people got together, dropped E, and got chummy to dance music. Fat is pure aggression, down to the cover of L7's "Fuel My Fire"--which really sucks, by the way. Other than that little slip-up, most of the tracks are thoroughly enjoyable, especially the Beastie Boys-inspired "Funky Shit" (based on a "Root Down" loop) and "Breathe," as well as the Pumpkins-esque "Serial Killer."
Fact is, for all its aggro, Fat is palatable and digestible--though definitely on the cutting edge. As for the underground forefront, however, Prodigy is light years behind bands like Atari Teenage Riot, who are still in the techno trenches, while Liam Howlett and Keith Flint are livin' large off the...well, you know.