11 August 2014

Prodigy - The Fat Of The Land

I'm not in a hacked off mood but Robert Christgau has REALLY taken leave of his senses this time. I admire him as a sharp and broad minded critic, but his one sentence summary of The Fat Of The Land, "smack them up, they deserve it"? And I believe he also gave the album one star out of five. Just sheer madness, and leaves me wondering who in fact warrants a slap. Now just before we examine this masterpiece of an album, and yes Mr. Christgau, it IS a masterpiece, I have to open up and confess that I never had much time for The Prodigy at the height of their success and the world at their feet.

The smack up term he's clearly referring to is by quite a long way the most controversial track on the record, Smack My Bitch Up, which despite the blatant signs of misogyny and examination into one of the seedier sides of life, is one of the top songs on the album. I'll go into a little more depth later, but first, we've already reviewed their first full album The Prodigy Experience (Read Eddie's review by clicking on this link). He describes it as a rough diamond and only starting to see the act getting on their feet with some end-all-and-kill-all anthems which these days the majority of us call old skool rave.

I said it earlier, I wasn't a great devotee of Liam Howlett and Co. but there are too many tracks they have produced that just can't be overlooked and it seems this 1997 offering from the mixtape meisters have the bulk of them. And opening up for us is our now well known Smack My.... track. Aside from the familiar mixing craic we're all used to, there's also other notable snippets which I really think are standout pieces. First the killer looped over lyrics by New York rapper Kool Keith (NOT to be confused with Keith Flint), which I see is an observation of misogyny and not a promoter of it, and the excellent Arabic flavoured harmonies of Bangladeshi born Brit Shahin Badar. You may also want to know that this has been featured in scores of various TV programs, films and trailers

Breathe is of course one of their more known tracks, Keith Flint making his first vocal appearance and showing he's a lot more than just a stage dance act. I didn't like it at first, but Breathe has grown on me spectacularly with his slightly distorting but intelligible Essex twang. Now onto Diesel Power with Kool Keith, I've never liked rap as a whole, but if there's one person that could swing it, then it'll going to be our favourite Bronxman. Another confident track and another nod from me, likewise Funky Shit, the prevailing hook is sampled from The Beastie Boys' Root Down, while the bassline seems to borrow from a Giorgio Moroder disco tune.

Next up is Mr Flint taking to the mic again with Serial Thrilla, and yes, more heavy sampling and scratching as expected, but the percussion as with the other tracks feels a lot more organic than what's let on. The "Hip Trip" (the Thai fortress scene) from the Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun is a heavily used running theme in Mindfields, good running hookline and lyrics from Prodigy member Maxim Reality, and some bridging somewhere in the middle. So enough going on to hold your attention but on Narayan, we have fully fledged vocals for the first time from Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills who guests on the album. The Narayan in question I believe refers to a Hindu God, showcasing more of Mills' Sanskrit influences. This is turning out to be a varied and enriching album three quarters into it.

The most famous track by some considerable margin is Firestarter, where we all heard Keith Flint for the first time all those years back, proving he's not just a dancer and erm...pretty face. Sampling, and there's plenty of it yet again includes the wah wah effect from The Breeders, the guitars are of ex Pixie's Kim Deal, while the electronic loops are from The Art Of Noise. But now for the track that made me want to review this, Climbatize. It feels very enlightening right from the beginning, and I'm not going to go into the technical details this time, so I'll just say I completely love it! Propping up the album is Fuel My Fire which is actually a cover from punk rockers L7 and features Flint, Republica's Saffron and guitarist Gizz Butt, a Mancunian thrash and punk specialist now a live performer with the group. Nice track all in all (sorry, kind of running out of superlatives here).

As a non Prodigy fan, I hadn't heard all of The Fat Of The Land tracks until today, but there's plenty of musical pep in various chilies, both hot and mild, so all things to all people? If I'm brutally honest not entirely, but this is as damned close as you'll get to musical perfection. It's not as old skool as The Prodigy Experience, and rave is included as a genre on this record. Sadly, all wrong in my opinion as this is far too mature and advanced five years later. And just about EVERY music critic has embraced it with plenty of enthusiasm and plaudits.

Well, not unless if you're Robert Christgau, that is. Silly person....

9.5 out of ten. Almost perfect...almost.
Best Track : Smack My Bitch Up

Buy The Fat Of The Land here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link here
Official Prodigy Website on this link here
Prodigy Official Facebook page here

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