Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land (Expanded Edition) (XL) CD REVIEW

I NEVER PAID much attention to Prodigy in 1997, the year that the group came of age with The Fat Of The Land, one of the biggest crossover hits of the year. There was far too much genuinely innovative electronic music to rummage around for that year, released mostly in tiny runs and made for cottage labels, to be bothered with something gratuitously mainstream. Still, it was impossible not to hear it everywhere you went, and I couldn’t help enjoying the sheer catapulting, steamrollering velocity of its two big hit singles, ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Smack My Bitch Up’.
Fifteen years later, we’ve got the Expanded Edition to mull over, and an opportunity to reassess the album all over again, along with the six remixes on The Added Fat EP.
After much consideration, I’ll state the bleedin’ obvious: that The Fat Of The Land would make a fairly decent EP, but sags over the duration of an album, and that its impact resides in its big hit singles, while the rest of it is noticeably inferior.
One good thing: after all this time, and presumably with a new digital master, it still sounds chunky and big. Another: both ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and ‘Firestarter’ retain a certain freshness, despite the rather dated ‘big beats’ that help to kill some of the weaker material.
Prodigy’s real victory was finding a way to channel a punky, angry, Killing Joke-style heaviosity into a dance context, by adding collaged Public Enemy-style samples in just the right places. It’s interesting that KJ themselves had gone electronic in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but that they had succumbed to ‘trance’, and thereby somewhat relinquished their potential for the killer attack. At their best, Prodigy sound urgent, violent, and you just know they could still create dance-floor panic.
There are other elements to the sound, of course: the inexplicable wailing ‘ethnic’ divas (well, I guess they needed something to create a little bit of atmosphere between choruses), for instance.
Unfortunately, outside of the brilliance of those two main singles, it gets a bit dull. ‘Breathe’ is okay, with its sick punk whine that sounds a little like ‘No Future’ and its wobbly bass, but ‘Diesel Power’ is a leaden, dated rap, and ‘Funky Shit’ – heck, even the name is embarrassing. The piece itself isn’t funky at all, sounding all stiff and robotic and technoid.
After awhile, the urgency of the tempo starts to sound like a mundane formula, so it’s a relief when they dip into ethnicity on ‘Mindfields’ and stretch out with more Indian vocal atmospherics on ‘Narayan’, even though it’s clearly just a breather.
The EP? None of the mixes do anything too radical: Noisia dirties up the sound of ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, while Alvin Risk’s version of ‘Firestarter’ is the most entertaining, if tasteless thing here: it’s Eurobollix sped-up and madcapped. Meanwhile, the Glitch Mob makes ‘Breathe’ sound like Nine Inch Nails. GARY STEEL

Sound = 3
Music = 3.5

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