Heavy enough to appeal to the rock kids but remaining a dance album to the core...
Louis Pattison 2008
The punkest single of 1996 wasn't by Green Day, or Rancid, or any of the other snotty US bands making a killing reheating the sound of the Buzzcocks and UK Subs for the American suburbs. In fact, it came from a quite unlikely source: The Prodigy, a UK rave outfit helmed by the young Liam Howlett who, following the Criminal Justice Act legislation that turned blissed-out ravers into lawbreakers, decided to channel his music in a quite different, anti-establishment direction. Firestarter, a demented burst of punk-rave with a video featuring dancer-turned-singer Keith Flint, dyed hair spiked up like a pair of devil horns, going mental in a sewer, made The Prodigy – already a pretty big deal following 1994's chart-topping Music For The Jilted Generation – into household names.
It would take 15 months for the Prodigy to follow up Firestarter with a full album, but by the time it arrived, they had reinvented themselves almost entirely. The hi-octane techno beats of yesteryear take a back seat to heavier, slower hip-hop influenced numbers like Mindfields and Diesel Power, the latter featuring a rap from former Ultramagnetic MC Kool Keith. The rave-speed tracks like Funky Shit and controversy-baiting Smack My Bitch Up, meanwhile, simmer with negative energy, utterly divested of the loved-up vibe that dominated dancefloors mere years before. Throughout, Flint and fellow MC Maxim play the role of demented ringmasters, barking cartoonishly grotesque rhymes, and there's space for a couple of guest spots as well. Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills might just have turned out his finest moment on the nine-minute Narayan, exhorting cod-mystically about ''the western sun'' over slamming breakbeats (not sure about the Buddhist chant interlude, mind). And things climax with a hell-for-leather cover of L7's Fuel My Fire that grafts seething, Generation X rage into a sleek techno engine and hands the keys over to the joyriders.
Heavy enough to appeal to the rock kids but remaining a dance album to the core, Fat Of The Land was almost single-handedly responsible for breaking electronica in the US. The Prodigy would never better it, but then, it's hard to know how they could.