My Favorite Albums: Prodigy – The Fat of the Land (1997)

We found out today that Keith Flint is the latest in a long string of musicians who have committed suicide. Similar to Dolores O’Rioridan of The Cranberries last year Keith’s band Prodigy was about to embark on a big tour. My brother, who in his 30s has a resurgent interest in going to concerts, and I were both anticipating reliving one of the great live performances of our youth when Prodigy came through the Tabernacle in May. But it’s not to be because, I imagine, Keith suffered from depression. It’s one of the craziest killers and there doesn’t seem to be a good way to prevent it (ask the Army, I have a feeling they would enthusiastically embrace any solution).

As a tribute to Keith I’m going to write a bit about the first album of theirs that I ever listened to, The Fat of the Land. Any idea what ‘The Fat of the Land” means? It comes from the Bible and means the upper class, the best of the best. The people who ate good while the poor starved. They said their album is the shit in the title.

The album opens with Smack My Bitch Up, which is a statement unto itself. Who was the target audience for this song and album? I’m sure some radio DJs had issues playing this song in the late 90s, I wonder how it would play if released today? The drums alone are worth a second listen, on this track and most of the others. Keith is singing the lead here.

Breathe was a huge radio hit as far as I remember. I remember jamming to this song with my band in the garage. I don’t think I had ever heard the word psychosomatic before this, I certainly love learning new words from music. “You’re the victim!” So good. Keith shares vocal duties with Maxim on this one. Fun fact, Maxim’s real name is Keith as well.

Diesel Power is one that I remember always thinking it’s not my favorite, but by the end of the song I’m convinced once again that it fits in perfectly helping stretch the definition of what genre Prodigy is. Yeah, it’s dance music, but that means screaming, rapping, and everything in between.

I remember hearing Funky Shit and thinking they were about to have another rap song but with a Beastie. Wrong. Prodigy is sample HEAVY. Just because I didn’t recognize the samples didn’t mean they weren’t there. On repeat listens you can pick up little loops of guitar or drums and I would guess most of those are samples. Funky Shit gets hype but isn’t my favorite track. I’m not skipping it, but I’m not putting it on first when I show people this group either, right?

Next song has Keith all over it, Serial Thrilla. It’s super punk in attitude, in rhythm, in noise , in the vocal, in the annoying sound that begins and ends it.

Time for the second side of the record, and I’m not going to lie, I think I like Side B better…

It starts with Mindfields which is like Diesel Power but much better. The rapping isn’t as all over the place, the beats compliment the keyboards really well. There are layers upon layers of interesting things going on. “This is dangerous.” I felt cool driving around with my windows down with this shit blasting.

What’s next? Probably the first 9 minute long song I ever loved. Narayan was meditative. It featured, I think, the guy from Kula Shaker on vocals (and I’m not going to double check it, I’m going to allow that to be my memory, fuck reality). There wasn’t a lot of music that I felt included Indian influences (aside from some George Harrison stuff I was familiar with) and I felt like Prodigy captured this good cross between Eastern and Western sounds in this song. From the long drawn out keyboard notes and yogi style chanting to the flute and shakers, I felt like this song was really transcendental.

and then… this crazy, ringing guitar… and wicked fast drums with huge hits… Firestarter was the first song I ever heard by them and I remember exactly where, it was one 120 Minutes on MTV. It was a show that played on Saturday or Sunday nights midnight to two am. Super terrible timeslot, and that’s when they played all the good shit. The Firestarter video was awesome. I wanted to see that guy in concert. I wanted to be that fucking guy! That guy was Keith Flint. His haircut, his attitude, his words, as a 16 year old in a band, I was fucking entertained. I remember getting to see him sing this song at HFStival at RFK stadium in D.C. and at one point he was just drooling all over himself and the stage and it was just… different. In the best way possible. I never wanted to look away while they performed. I had no idea what he would do next. Anything could happen.

And then something totally different does happen. Climbatize is another song that helps you transcend time and space. In fact, I think it does it better than it spiritual predecessor on Side A, Narayan. This song has everything I love. Perfect drums, weird horn sounds, an ability to continuously build. The thing is Prodigy could easily tour and only play songs that don’t have Keith on them. This song has zero vocals and is amazing. Liam is writing all the songs, right? I really wonder what he will do now. They have been in this band together for a long time, I’m sure it would be excruciating to try and replace someone who was your brother in music. Fuck.

Last and most cetainly not least, another punk rocker from Keith. Fuel My Fire is an L7 cover (who knew?) and I have to say I prefer this version. “People like you just fuel my fire.” Fuckin’ A right, Keith. You will be missed.

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