The Prodigy navigated the high wire, balancing artistic merit and mainstream visibility with more flair than any electronica act of the 1990s. Ably defeating the image-unconscious attitude of most electronic artists in favour of a focus on nominal frontman Keith Flint, the group crossed over to the mainstream of pop music with an incendiary live experience that approximated the original atmosphere of the British rave scene even while leaning uncomfortably close to arena rock showmanship and punk theatrics.
Despite electronic music's diversity and quick progression during the 1990s -- from rave/hardcore to ambient/downtempo and back again, thanks to the breakbeat/drum'n'bass movement -- Howlett modified the Prodigy's sound only sparingly; swapping the rave-whistle effects and ragga samples for metal chords and chanted vocals proved the only major difference in the band's evolution from its debut to its worldwide breakthrough with third album The Fat of the Land. Even before the band took its place as the premiere dance act for the alternative masses, the Prodigy had proved a consistent entry in the British charts, with over a dozen consecutive singles in the Top 20.
Howlett, the prodigy behind the group's name, began producing tracks in his bedroom studio during 1988. His first release, the EP What Evil Lurks, became a major mover on the fledgling rave scene. After Howlett met up with Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill, the trio formed The Prodigy. Howlett's recordings gained the trio a contract with XL Records, which re-released What Evil Lurks in February 1991.
Six months later, Howlett's second single, "Charly," hit number one on the British dance charts, then crossed over to the pop charts, stalling only at number three.
The Prodigy showed they were no one-anthem wonders in late 1992, with 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 went gold.
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, the following 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." "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.
In March 1996, "Firestarter" entered the British charts at number one, though the video was almost banned due to complaints about arson fixation; many Top of the Pops viewers also complained that Keith Flint had scared their children. An unmissable guitar hook and Flint's catcall vocal antics -- his first on record -- made it a quick worldwide hit, and though "Firestarter" wasn't a major success in the U.S., its 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 . In the middle of the electronica buzz, the Prodigy dropped their third album, The Fat of the Land. The LP entered both UK and US charts at number one, shifting several million units worldwide. The next Prodigy full-length was 1999's The Dirtchamber Sessions, a mix album helmed by Howlett.
The "Baby's Got a Temper" single -- one Howlett would later disown -- appeared in 2002, and soon after Leeroy Thornhill left the band. Maxim and Keith Flint were still in the band but they weren't to be found on 2004's Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Five years later, Invaders Must Die signalled a return to the rave sound of their debut, and also found both Flint and Maxim back as core members. The lead single "Omen" reached number three on the British charts, and Invaders Must Die debuted at the top spot on the British album charts. The live album World's on Fire followed, recorded in 2010 at the Prodigy's own Warrior's Dance festival. Early in 2015 the group announced its sixth studio album, The Day Is My Enemy.
(THIRTY TIGERS / COOKING VINYL AUSTRALIA)
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