Own It or Disown It: #280: The Prodigy, The Fat of the Land

OwnItorDisownIt

The Prodigy's smash third album turned twenty years old this year. Is it worth listening to these days?

If there’s one constant to take away from everything I’ve read about The Fat of the Land, it is that no one can agree on pretty much anything about it. It is, at once, the peak of electronica as well as its boneheaded nadir, a timeless reflection of where pop culture was at in 1997 that grows more dated with each passing second, club music that doesn’t sound good outside of the club and got play on the radio anyway. All of these perspectives, of course, are wrong because they aren’t my opinion and I’m always right about everything, but before I give a verdict that no one will argue with, let’s back up and give context to explain how this album got as big as it did.

The Prodigy are an English electronica act that rode the “big beat” trend to great success. I get the impression they’d be engaging with their brand of audacious club bangers regardless of recognition, but English and international audiences were lapping up “big beat” at the time, so it was only natural that The Prodigy would get a chance at the spotlight. After half a decade of doing what came naturally, they hit it big with three massive hit singles: “Firestarter”, “Breathe”, and “Smack My Bitch Up”, each more provocative and celebrated than the last. What made these tracks catch on? I’ll let my brother explain: “They’re all the same song with slightly different patterns and base samples. The fact is that [The] Prodigy should have stayed a club group as this is the kind of music they make. It’s perfectly fine to make these songs and hook them together in a dance/booze setting but since they’re conceptually so similar it makes for terribly boring radio singles.” Well, that’s an explanation, certainly.

He’s not wrong. Well, not totally. Give the three songs the same lyrics and you could convince someone they’re remixes of the same track, asshakers built around celebrating violence with its lyrics and clanging elements. (They’re all also about a minute too long, which is why I prefer the cut-down versions of each song present in their respective music videos.) That said…boring? Eh, sure, I can see how having them in the same radio rotation could be a problem (and pairing two singles as opening tracks…I mean, why), but I think each song is fine by itself. They might all be the same song, but that means they share the same strength of being danceable, which is more than I can say about what The Chemical Brothers, who were also gaining fame and acclaim with their brand of “big beat”, were pumping out at the time.

Here’s the thing, though: those three weren’t just the big singles from The Fat of the Land, they were the only singles from the album, and Land‘s quality outside of those hits is all over the place. The album just dies for a full third of its runtime right in the middle with a terrible trilogy of tracks consisting of “Funky Shit”, the most prototypical electro-club banger you’ve ever heard; “Serial Thrilla”, which sounds like if Stabbing Westward tried to cover XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream; and “Mindfields”, which could have been the worst song on any WipeOut video game soundtrack. Elsewhere, I kind of like the Kool Keith-featured “Diesel Power”, which resembles an on-point Deltron 3030 track, and while I get why some might not care for the nine minutes of “Narayan”, I feel it does a lot to justify its massive runtime with its indelible enthusiasm and well-placed drums.

So, then, does The Fat of the Land still hold up? Eh, sure. Electronic music has moved far past this in every respect and the worst stuff here serves as reminder of why that’s a good thing, but I’m a sucker for an album that can get me to tap my foot for half its runtime. The Fat of the Land sure is a reminder of what 1997 was like, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.

VERDICT: OWN

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