Alternately with and without a “the” in front of their name, The Prodigy, a three man electronic music act from Essex, England have produced four full length CDs and 19 singles since their debut in 1991. Along with Fat Boy Slim and The Chemical Brothers, they are widely recognized for setting the direction for today’s electronic music. The Prodigy’s permanent members are Liam Howlett (composer and keyboardist), Keith Flint (vocalist), and Maxim Reality (vocalist/MC), artists as unique in appearance as their music is in sound.
The Prodigy’s first two efforts, Experience and Music for the Jilted Generation made them a household name in British music. They followed six years of success in England with an explosive entry into the mainstream American music scene, 1997’s The Fat of the Land. The CD was a loud, rhythmic and controversial ode to rave, chemical breaks, and electronica.
After a long hiatus, the band returned with 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, which debuted at number one on the album UK charts. Always Outnumbered failed to achieve the success they’d seen with their previous work and quickly slipped from the charts without spawning any big hits.
A fifth album is in the works, with a release date tentatively set for 2007. In the meantime, electronic music fans can check out 2005’s Their Law: The Singles 1990-2005, or 1999’s remix CD, The Dirtchamber Sessions, Volume 1 to get an idea of what The Prodigy are all about.
Top Ten Songs by The Prodigy
#10 Girls (Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned)
Girls was released twice as a single, first attached to Girls/Memphis Bell, and later by itself. The offering is more upbeat and positive than The Prodigy’s typical industrial sound. Girls is largely danceable and fun, but uneven mixing towards the track’s end keeps it from achieving true greatness.
#9 Spitfire (Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned)
Featuring vocals from the actress Juliette Lewis, Spitfire has the same Middle Eastern influences and hard beats used so successfully on the band’s international mega hit, Breathe (#3). Spitfire is more hardcore than Always Outnumbered’s previous single, Girls, returning the group to their legendary industrial techno sound.
#8 Firestarter (The Fat of the Land)
Firestarter was a ground breaking, revolutionary experience for US audiences when it debuted in 1997, and may be the best known of all of The Prodigy’s work. Chemical beats were an unexplored concept for the MTV crowd, and Firestarter successfully introduced moshers to angry dance music. Keith Flint is rarely featured in such a linear manner, making this track somewhat atypical of the Prodigy style. Firestarter was hideously overplayed on both MTV and radio, which keeps it from moving any higher on this list.
#7 Weather Experience (Experience)
Weather Experience is a primarily mellow instrumental track from Experience. Although not terribly useful as dance music, since it’s too slow, Weather Experience is moody and introspective, taking a step back from the industrial sound. Inverting the typical Prodigy formula, the track moves slowly to a ramped-up middle section, before returning to a more chilled-out beat.
Listening to Jericho is a little like watching an adult cartoon, i.e. Cool World. Jericho uses high pitched, sped-up vocals with an accelerated beat to drive the action. The primary lyric repetitively insists, “Keep on dancing, keep on dancing,” and sounds as if it’s being sung by an animated character. Jericho should be in the late night repertoire of every club DJ for an instant jolt of late night party life.
#5 Baby’s Got a Temper(Baby’s Got a Temper EP)
Baby’s Got a Temper returned The Prodigy to controversy as previously visited with Smack My Bitch Up (#1), due to the inclusion of ambiguous lyrics about the drug Rohypnol. The song was written not by Prodigy mastermind Liam Howlett, but vocalist Keith Flint for his side project band, Flint. The song achieved so much negative publicity because of the date-rape drug references that Howlett later publicly distanced himself from it. Like Firestarter (and probably because Flint wrote the song), the track consistently features Flint’s vocals. Danceable and pissy, the track is one of The Prodigy’s more listenable later efforts.
#4 Out of Space(Experience)
Out of Space flips bizarrely back and forth from industrial techno to reggae, which works because the transition is so odd. The track accelerates from a high-speed opening to relaxed reggae vocals laid over a rapid background beat. There are several versions of this song available, including 2005’s Audio Bullys Remix, but the original is the best of the lot.
#3 Breathe (The Fat of the Land)
Breathe is all about tense techno beats and punk vocals. The second single from Fat of the Land was featured in a creepy video replete with centipedes, cockroaches and a crocodile. Breathe has the honor of being The Prodigy’s biggest hit. A little too intense to be a truly successful dance single, it works as ass-kicking music, marrying industrial to club with a sinister undertone.
#2 Voodoo People (Pendulum Remix) (Voodoo People (Pendulum Remix) Single)
The classic Voodoo People was originally released as a single in 1994 and appears on Music for the Jilted Generation. The 2005 remix fills in the background with an amped-up guitar & drums sound. The effect is a faster, fuller take on the original. Voodoo People (Pendulum Remix) is one of the best tracks in The Prodigy’s impressive arsenal, and is a must-have for any serious electronic music fan.
#1 Smack My Bitch Up (The Fat of the Land)
The violent and arguably misogynistic video for Smack My Bitch Up was buried in late night rotation by MTV to avoid the ire of the National Organization for Women. However, Smack My Bitch Up enjoyed a large amount of airplay prior to the controversy taking wing. Featuring only one line of repetitive sampling (“Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up”), the song is imminently danceable and, along with Breathe, provided the background music for high-octane fight scenes in Charlie’s Angels. Smack My Bitch Up proceeds like any other club dance fare until it interrupts itself in the middle with a pace-changing Middle Eastern female vocalization. The singer is quickly integrated seamlessly back into the song. Experimental though the vocalization might be, Smack My Bitch Up is one of The Prodigy’s most pulled-together, polished songs. Along with the remix of Voodoo People, this track is a must-own for electronic music lovers.