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The Prodigy
Seven years ago, The Prodigy were at the top of the music heap with electronica enjoying global success like never before. For a while after that, it was downhill all the way but things may be looking up for these electro-punks with their latest release.

Itís been a while since electronica had a rabid fan-following. The biggest albums and the hottest stars came out towards the end of the last century and in a classic example of a short attention span, music buyers are unlikely to be very aware of music released as recently as 1997 (Prodigyís Fat Of The Land) or even 1999 (Chemical Brothersí Surrender). So when The Prodigy released a new single, 'Babyís Got A Temper', in 2002 it was universally panned by critics and rejected by the music buying public. The act that had struck new ground with the music in 1994 had effectively driven the final nail in its coffin eight years later.

It all began in the head of one Liam Howlett, a British kid raised in the town of Braintree, Essex who was trained on the piano as a child. As the 80s went by he began listening to hip-hop and later DJed with the British rap act Cut To Kill before moving on to acid-house. The fledgling hardcore breakbeat sound was perfect for a musician fluent in uptempo dance music and fan of old hip-hop. Howlett began producing tracks in his bedroom studio and his first release, the EP What Evil Lurks, became a major mover on the rave scene in 1990. Howlett met up with Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill (both Essex natives as well) in the growing British rave scene and the trio formed The Prodigy later that year.
1992 saw the release of The Prodigy Experience, one of the first LPs by a rave act. Mixing chunky breakbeats with vocal samples from dub legend Lee "Scratch" Perry and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, it hit the Top Ten and easily went gold. During 1993, Howlett added a ragga/hip-hop MC named Maxim Reality and after several months of working on tracks, Howlett issued the next Prodigy single, 'No Good (Start The Dance)'. Despite the fact that the single's hook was a sped-up diva-vocal tag (an early rave staple), the second album Music For The Jilted Generation provided a transition for the group, from piano-pieces and rave-signal tracks to more guitar-integrated singles like Voodoo People and Poison. The album also continued to bear allegiance to breakbeat drum 'n bass even though the style had barely become commercially viable after having been a fixture of the dance underground. Music for the Jilted Generation entered the British charts at number one and went gold in its first week of release. The album was also nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, as one of the best albums of the year.

Much of 1994 and 1995 were spent touring the world, including a notice-serving appearance at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival where the group proved that electronica could entertain arenas just as effectively as rock. Keith Flint's incendiary persona which was a mix of in-your-face punk and master-of-ceremonies was perfect for the booming digital-age.
Even with their punishing schedule Howlett managed to bring out the next new single in March 1996. Firestarter entered the British charts at number one, Keith Flint became the star of a million nocturnal nightmares and the band were placed front and centre as the heralds of a new musical world order. The videoís high-profile spot in MTV's Buzz Bin introduced the Prodigy to many Americans and helped fuel the major-label push for electronica during the following year (though they rejected collaborative offers from David Bowie, U2 and Madonna). In the middle of the buzz, their third album, The Fat Of The Land entered both British and American charts at number one, shifting several million units worldwide. In America the album was released by Madonnaís Maverick Records imprint. Even though the always cheeky Brits had suggested renaming the album The Land Of The Fat when it came out in America, it did very well. The world was truly theirs.

After Baby's Got a Temper was panned by everybody who had an outlet in which to voice their opinion, Howlett scrapped the other five tracks he had completed and set out in search of a new musical direction for The Prodigy. He is said to have retreated to his house in Essex and attempted to write music that was a diversion from past hits like Firestarter and Smack My Bitch Up. It turned out to be harder than he would have imagined because he didnít know what direction he wanted to be going in. For about four months he kept going into the studio and doing the same things over and over again until he only had two beats to show for all his effort over the time span.

You can read the rest of our feature on The Prodigy in the September 2004 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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