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Music / The Prodigy

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L to R: Liam Howlett, Keith Flint, Leeroy Thornhill and Maxim Reality.

"I'm the trouble starter, punking instigator.
I'm the fear addicted, danger illustrated.
I'm a firestarter, twisted firestarter.
You're the firestarter, twisted firestarter."
— "Firestarter"

The Prodigy are an Electronic Music group from the UK. Besides being popular in their own right, they were one of the most well-known acts of the "big beat" subgenre during The '90s, along with acts like The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method and Fatboy Slim. Formed in 1990, the group's membership has been relatively stable, comprising:

  • Liam Howlett - One-man band; handles keyboards, programming, producing, and songwriting. Got the group's name from his Moog Prodigy synthesizer.
  • Keith Flint - Vocalist known for his horned hairstyle and generally scary appearance.
  • Maxim Reality (real name Keith Andrew Palmer, confusingly) - Vocalist/MC.

They also had a fourth member, Leeroy Thornhill, who was a dancer and occasionally played keyboards live, but he left in 2000.

The Prodigy's early material was largely straightforward rave with humorous samples thrown in, as shown by their debut album Experience. While this was a success in the early 1990s and spawned several singles such as "Out of Space" and "Charly", it gave them a reputation as lightweights, attracting derisive nicknames such as "kiddie ravers" and "Toytown techno".

Inspired by the impending passage of the landmark Criminal Justice Act (which cracked down hard on the rave scene in Britain), Howlett threw out all the bright and colourful rave elements in producing their follow-up Music For The Jilted Generation, instead cultivating an angry, heavy sound drawing from techno, breakbeat, and industrial rock. Notably, "Their Law" and "Poison" from this album are clear forerunners to the big beat movement of the late 1990s.

Howlett went so far as to test the waters for his new sound by pre-releasing a couple of the album's tracks under the name Earthbound, which won huge underground approval. The track "Their Law" marked their first collaboration with another artist, in this case being the rock band Pop Will Eat Itself, while "Voodoo People" kept them on the charts.

The group's landmark success finally came with The Fat of the Land in 1997. By this point, Howlett had managed to upgrade his equipment, making the beats heavier and giving the album an overall intense, creepy atmosphere. He also took the rock inclinations shown on Jilted one step further and openly aimed his music at the Alternative Rock audience, bringing Jim Davies from the industrial rock band Pitchshifter to add awesome guitar riffs all over the place, sampling from more rock songs, letting Keith and Maxim add more shouted vocals, and including a straight Cover Version of "Fuel My Fire" by L7. Howlett also put in more outside contributions, bringing in Matt Cameron, Kool Keith, and others.

His gambit worked, as Fat became a massive success in the UK and the US (where it went to #1), spawned several hit singles with Nightmare Fuel-laden videos (for "Smack My Bitch Up", "Breathe", and "Firestarter"), and brought them an audience of rock fans that otherwise didn't really pay attention to electronic music.

There was also controversy involved over the video for "Smack My Bitch Up" (which featured more nudity then any other video up to that point, as well as scenes of violence, drug use, and drunk driving), to the point that MTV refused to air it before midnight. But this turned out to be a case of No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, as the video still won a VMA.

Having enjoyed their time in the spotlight, The Prodigy laid low for a few years; Howlett put out the mix album The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1, Leeroy Thornhill left in 2000, and the group also parted ways with their live guitarist Gizz Butt, but nothing much was heard from their camp for a while. Their next single "Baby's Got a Temper" was released in 2002 to critical disappointment, but warm fan reception.

They finally returned with their next album Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned in 2004, which was greeted with general disappointment as well. After another four-year pause, the group put out their fifth album Invaders Must Die in 2009, which was noticeably better received than Outnumbered. Their sixth album The Day Is My Enemy followed six years later in 2015, and their seventh No Tourists was released in 2018.

On March 4, 2019, Keith Flint was found dead in his home in Essex. Liam Howlett had the unfortunate task of informing fans that it was ruled a suicide leading to an outpouring of grief and sympathy and bringing mental health issues, especially those of men, back into the spotlight. Despite Flint's passing, Howlett has vowed to continue the band, informing fans he was back in the studio working on new music in August the same year.


Tropes associated with The Prodigy:

  • And Then John Was a Zombie: "You're the firestarter, twisted firestarter."
  • Broken Record:
    • "Spitfire" has only one line playing throughout the song: "If I was in World War II they'd call me SPITFIRE!". Another line, "'Cus you know that I can", is occasionally heard, but not as much as the latter.
    • "Smack My Bitch Up": "Change my pitch up / Smack my bitch up"
    • The pitched-up Arabic vocalising in "One Love," or rather, "ween laaaaaaaaaaaaaahaaaahaaaaaave."
  • Car Fu: The track "You'll Be Under My Wheels". While the track is an instrumental it's pretty obvious what the title refers to.
  • Cover Version: "Fuel My Fire" was originally by L7.
  • Darker and Edgier: Music For The Jilted Generation and how. The Day Is My Enemy is also one of the Prodigy's darkest albums yet.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Experience from 1992, is bright, chirpy, poppy rave music. Music for the Jilted Generation is where the Prodigy did a 180 and became the sinister electronic punks we know them as.
  • Epic Rocking: Back in the rave days, The Prodigy weren't the least bit shy of passing the six-minute mark. "Break & Enter" surpasses eight minutes, and even The Fat of the Land's "Narayan" reaches nine. With their latter-day sound, their songs are a bit more compact.
  • Evolving Music: "Break & Enter" from Music For The Jilted Generation has seen a couple of modifications. Its live version was shortened a bit and has a modified beat and an electric guitar added to the mix. This version is referred to as "Break & Enter '95." In the 2000s, they began playing another version, in a lower key and with a shortened intro, and this version got recorded in the studio and released on the Updated Re-release of Jilted as the '2005 Live Edit.'
  • Fading into the Next Song: Used extensively on Experience. It was used more sparingly on Music for the Jilted Generation and The Fat of the Land.
    • "Jericho" → "Music Reach (1/2/3/4)" → "Wind It Up" → "Your Love" → "Hyperspeed" → "Charly" "Out of Space" → "Everybody in the Place" "Weather Experience" → "Fire" → "Ruff in the Jungle Bizness"
    • "Intro" → "Break and Enter" "Speedway (Theme from Fastlane)" → "The Heat (The Energy)"
    • "Funky Shit" → "Serial Thrilla" → "Mindfields"
  • Genre-Busting: To the part they created a whole new genre known as big beat, with The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, and Fatboy Slim.
  • Handsome Lech: All of the band (especially in the 1990s), but a special mention has to go to Leeroy.
    • Alas, our conversation is prematurely terminated by the return of Leeroy's romantic nemesis, the make-up artist. "AWOIGHT DARLIN'!? Come to take me 'ome 'ave yer? Need a bit of Braintree in yer?"
    • Lanky and libidinous dancer Leeroy chomps on a bar of dairy milk. "Always take chocolate with you," he smiles sweetly. "It's good for luring little girls over the barriers. You just have to hold it out to them."
  • Large Ham: Maxim and Keith.
  • Misogyny Song: "Smack My Bitch Up" was assumed to be this due to the chorus. Word of God denied any misogynistic intent, stating that the chorus is a slang term for doing something intensely. The music video's Tomato Surprise was specifically designed to counter it.
  • New Sound Album: Music For The Jilted Generation is much darker and harder-sounding than Experience.
    • The Fat of the Land adds elements of hip hop to the band's sound.
    • Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned sees the band double down on their industrial influences and introduce elements of electroclash.
    • Invaders Must Die is somewhat of a return to the band's pre-Outgunned style, though it keeps that album's abrasiveness while also introducing cleaner production.
  • The '90s: Heavily identified with big beat, one of the 90s' most prominent styles of electronic music.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Hindi in "Om namah, Naryana"
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The Xylophone in "Omen". The music video even comes complete with a Creepy Child to play it.
  • One-Woman Wail: "Spitfire" and "Smack My Bitch Up".
  • Planet of Steves: Once Leeroy left, this meant two out of three of the band's members were named Keith. And because two Keiths wasn't enough, "Diesel Power" and "You'll Be Under My Wheels" featured vocals from rapper, Kool Keith.note 
  • Power Ballad: "Invisible Sun".
  • Precision F-Strike: "Fuck 'em and their law!"note 
  • Protest Song: Inasmuch as electronic dance music can invoke this trope, "Their Law" would qualify.
  • Punny Name: "Mindfields".
  • Running Gag: A few from the Music For The Jilted Generation videos, excluding "One Love."
    • Keith getting himself into trouble (caught in a vine trap at the beginning of "Voodoo People," then having to be rescued later in the same video, getting trapped in a box with no air at the end of "No Good," and getting into a fight with Liam in "Poison").
    • Liam getting angry and hitting something (he takes a sledgehammer to a wall in "No Good," then wrestling Keith to the ground for smashing the drumkit in "Poison").
    • Maxim's eyes briefly turning to yellow cat eyes (happens in all three videos, most notably in "No Good").
  • Sampling: From varied sources given the band's unusual mixture of genres, including John Barry's score for The Man with the Golden Gun.
  • Scary Black Man: Maxim, especially during live performances when he's incoherently yelling vulgarities and growling at the audience.
  • Singer Namedrop: On "Invaders Must Die": "We are... The Prodigy."
  • Studio Chatter: "Poison" begins with a phone ringing and someone saying "Liam, someone on the phone for you", to which Liam replies "Fuck's sake, I'm tryna write this fuckin' tune, man".
  • Subliminal Seduction: "Full Throttle" has its titular vocal samplenote  reversed.
  • Sword Fight: Sound effects used as percussion on "Breathe".
  • Title Track: Invaders Must Die, The Day Is My Enemy and No Tourists all have one.
    • Experience sorta has one with "Weather Experience".
    • Non-album example: the What Evil Lurks EP.
  • Tomato Surprise: The music video for "Smack My Bitch Up," where the violent and out-of-control POV character turns out to be a woman.
  • Unbroken First-Person Perspective: The music video for "Smack My Bitch Up" is a series of POV shots from the perspective of the video's protagonist.
  • Wham Shot: In the music video for "Smack My Bitch Up", you follow a person through a wild night out from his point of view (as mentioned above at Unbroken First-Person Perspective). This person drinks a lot, harasses women, gets in fights with men (and women), visits a strip club and finally has sex with a stripper. In the final shot of the clip, when you look in the mirror, it turns out this person you were following was actually a woman...