Despite the good news, The Prodigy were far from buzzin’ at the end of 1992. Made entirely by producer/programmer Liam Howlett, their debut album...Experience sold well and along with The Shamen’s Boss Drum partially managed to translate some of the ‘avin it era’s rush dynamics. But Howlett and his cohorts still found they were stalked by “Kiddie Rave” jibes, most famously levelled at them by Mixmag, whose damning appraisal of the cartoonish single Charly – printed on its August cover – was that it had helped kill off the entire scene.
Despite Howlett’s protests they were partially right – and by the time Music for The Jilted Generation arrived in 1994 they’d managed a reinvention few thought possible, railing against authoritarian crackdowns whilst stealthily taking the new hyper extended bass of jungle over ground. The bitterness wasn’t just theirs: by then clubbing had undergone a fundamental change, ostentatiously becoming a champagne rather than water experience, a safe zone one which turned many old skoolers off.
Now Britain’s most successful “Dance” artist, respect was still hard to come by; tweaked, Howlett responded by ignoring the big room fluff of Cream and Ministry of Sound – famously telling a journalist he hoped Ibiza would be bombed – and started twisting big beat, hip-hop and grunge into abstract shapes, still sampling but making things raw and uglier. Emerging from his Earthbound home studio in late 1996 this sleazy chimera was given life on Firestarter, a grappling hook of a track featuring snippets of The Breeders and Art of Noise and whose promotional video gave us Keith Flint seemingly in the midst of demonic possession. It was brilliant.
Firestarter and Flint would enrage pre-watershed Britain – a sure sign that it was doing its job – but the outcry on Points Of View was nothing compared to that for Smack My Bitch Up, the words mischievously borrowed from Ultramagnetic MC’s Kool Keith, although it hardly seemed to matter. Revelling in the controversy, it was made The Fat of the Land’s opening track, a no-f***s-given response to all the opprobrium, messily hacking whilst loaded up with riffing synths, a sky-scraping break and a fiendish, mystical chant cut off in it’s prime .
It was an album primed full of these abrupt, stop-start moments, like on Breathe where part way through it halted as if letting the listener drag in some much-needed oxygen before the waterboarding engulfs them again. Understanding the power of shock value, as an experience it’s built around this triptych of singles, an avalanche of mischievous collisions where Howlett ruthlessly smashed atoms together and stood back to watch everything burn.
Threat levels elsewhere were merely ear toxic. A cover of L7’s Fuel My Fire – complete with an odd, distressed Wurlitzer – went a step further than scorn for the DJ’s lost authenticity, not hardcore techno but hardcore punk, whilst Serial Thriller and Climbatize were dead eyed, post apocalyptic and impregnably dark. Respite was for pussies: only on the Beasties-sampling Funky Shit and the alt-Gnosticism of Narayan was any kind of quarter given.
With a cast of sordid characters, there’s barely a moment on The Fat of the Land which isn’t somehow mocking you, giving out pills and dares, haunted by faces looming in and out of focus. A rabbit hole for the 20th century, losing it badly had rarely sounded so good.