We live in an era of genre-bending music so it’s sometimes hard to appreciate a true crossover sound when it comes along. The Prodigy definitely did that with their 1997 album The Fat of the Land and now that seminal LP is hitting its twentieth birthday.
The follow-up to their sophomore album Music For The Jilted Generation, which was a inspired by the crackdown on raves and the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, The Fat of the Land moved into a different but no less thunderous direction, turning The Prodigy into dance punk rock ravers and household names. The album was a huge commercial success, debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart (eventually going double-platinum), getting nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and for the 1997 Mercury Music Prize, placing highly in many end-of-year lists and making the 1999 Guinness World Record books for the fastest-selling UK album.
The Fat of the Land was also the first Prodigy record to feature Keith Flint in addition to Liam Howlett and Maxim Reality. His presence, including that dyed devil horn hair and punk attitude, helped the group feel more like a band. That sense of identity on top of the combo of rave energy, rock & roll aggression, is what made the album sound so fresh and appeal to a cross-section of music fans, even those who’d never bought a dance album in their lives.
Of course, the record was not without controversy. The US National Organisation for Women objected to ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and the BBC even banned the song, despite the group claiming that it’s a reference to “doing anything intensely” rather than being misogynistic. Even the Beastie Boys asked the band to cut the track from their set at Reading Festival in 1998 because they didn’t want to follow a set containing such an offensive song. Times have certainly changed.[URISP id=90251]
It would be a long time until The Prodigy produced music anywhere near as good as The Fat of the Land but when you consider how truly revolutionary the album was – changing the idea of what electronic music could sound like, helping the sound gain popularity in the States and turning XL Recordings into a serious label – that’s not really a surprise. But play ‘Firestarter’ or ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ now and tell us they don’t still sound exciting two decades on, we dare you.