In 1990, Britain seemed to be a state of flux. Thatcher had (finally!) moved house to be replaced by a bank clerk, the Eastern Bloc was coming to terms with revolution, the Berlin Wall had fallen and “The Mother Of All Wars” was about to be unleashed.
Musically, the rave scene was exploding from willo-the-wisp underground parties into a self-consuming fiery ball of drug-fuelled, mainstream hype that would be curtailed by officious legislation. Self-styled sonic renegades The Prodigy moved from 12″ vinyl and raves to album releases and rock venues. One of the most successful – and certainly the scariest – British acts ever to stride the globe was loudly heralded.
The Prodigy was the brainchild of incendiary sonic alchemist Liam Howlett. His ear for punk rock’s energy and rebellion, married to his considerable technological prowess and innate ability to write an angry, killer riff to order, took dance music to another level. Punk, reinvented for the DJ generation – some kind of full circle. The collaboration with fellow electropunks Pop Will Eat Itself, Their Law, sounded like a natural British answer to Rage Against The Machine – one of Howlett’s biggest influences.
“I take your brain to another dimension,” ran Out Of Space’s helium-high chorus sample over thumping, rumbling beats and bass that would later cause the balcony of the Brixton Academy to bounce like a trampoline during many a subsequent The Prodigy gig there. Better still was the classic floor filler Voodoo People – a song many of the act’s early fans believe was never trumped.
For all Howlett’s abilities behind a keyboard or three, it was colourful Keith Flint as front man that crossed the band over from the music press to the main news headlines. His demon-psycho-pyromaniac persona, complete with green mohican and a penchant for piercings, tatts and eyeliner, was about as perfect an embodiment of The Prodigy’s in-yer-face, vaguely dangerous ethos and devil-may-care, energetic attitude, for which Firestarter was the quintessential example track and a massive number one. Flint would be joined by his perfect foil, the equally inspiring Maxim, on MC duties.
But even with the mega-successful album The Fat Of The Land behind them, Howlett’s compositions weren’t immune to a fickle press – not least because The Prodigy were more than happy to bait both the fourth estate and that strange and remote place known as Middle England (here be suburban, net curtain twitching dragons).
Firestarter was ghastly enough for the easily aghast, but Smack My Bitch Up caused a furore, with the clever video of a raucous night out banned and Flint taking delight in goading whoever dared take umbrage. A self-parodying hiccough called Baby’s Got A Temper – a top five hit unsurprisingly absent from this compilation – aside, the band enjoyed considerable goodwill on both sides of the Atlantic.
But The Fat Of The Land’s much-delayed follow-up Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was finally released, spawning the single Spitfire and a wild collaboration with Juliette Lewis, Hotride. Tours continued to sell out, the album topped the chart and The Prodigy could once again laugh manically in the face of any brave detractors still left standing.
Their Law: The Singles then is a welcome career retrospective from a unique, genre-hopping act whose impact on music and popular culture remains potent and strangely cool despite 15 years at the very top of their game. Transcending fads, scenes and styles, The Prodigy have survived this far because their infectious music, as collected here, is little short of genius. There can be no better reason to celebrate a great British institution.