dance music

REVIEW: Prodigy – Fat of the Land (1997)

PRODIGY – Fat of the Land (1997 XL)

Electronica was all the rage (all the rave?) in 1997.  The Orb, Chemical Brothers, Orbital and more were hitting new highs.  U2 was hot for electronica, and rock bands began incorporating new beats into their songs.  Nobody crossed the boundaries between rock and dance better than Prodigy (formerly, The Prodigy) on their 1997 commercial breakthrough Fat of the Land.  Leader Liam Howlett and his gang of backing miscreants struck gold with their genre-bending third record.  Dancer Keith Flint had risen to to a frontman position, sneering his way through tracks like “Firestarter” all the way up the charts.  His green bi-hawk and facial piercings made him an unforgettable music video mainstay.  The group’s MC Maxim Reality had two lead vocals on the album including smash hit “Breathe”.  Dancer Leeroy Thornhill, well, he just kept on dancing!

Commencing with the controversial third single “Smack My Bitch Up”, this album opens with a bang.  Based on a sample from “Give the Drummer Some” by Ultramagnetic MCs, the group were forced to defend the vocal hook:  “Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up.”  Insisting they were not misogynists, Howlett said it means to do “anything intensely”.  The music certainly is that, with rapid beats and sound assaulting the sense from the get-go.  Then it goes raga at the halfway point, intertwining genres beyond recognition.  MTV pulled the video, only for it to win two awards in ’98.

“Breathe” featuring Flint and Maxim on vocals was selected as the second single.  This pounder boasts a Brian Downey drum fill from Thin Lizzy’s “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed” (immediately obvious, but only after you’ve been told it’s there).  Coupled with rapid bass, swishing swords, record scratches n’ clanging hooks, there’s also a cool wacka-jawacka guitar sample on the verses.  Despite the awkward hook of “psycho-somatic addict-insane,” the song is beyond catchy.

Kool Keith handles lead vocals on the slower, forceful “Diesel Power”.  It’s just an ode to the love of making music.  “Build with skill, with technique, computer A-DAT, My lyrical form is clouds on your brainstorm.”  Clever internal rhymes and relentless rapping form the main hooks while Liam Howlett lays back with the music.  Had there been a fourth single, “Diesel Power” would have been perfect, bringing in rap fans to hang with the rock.

“Funky Shit” is what it says, bearing the main hook of “Oh my God it’s the funky shit!”  Beats and samples form a cool track that sounds like something from a 90s action movie or video game.  Moving on to a pounding “Serial Thrilla”, this one creates a heavy tune with nothing but beats, samples and sneers.  Try bangin’ your head to it for some genre-bending action.  Keith Flint does the lead vocal:  “Damage destructor, crowd disruptor, you corruptor, every timer.”  Nothing fancy, but still sticks to your brain like supersonic electronic peanut butter.

Side two:  the sound of a jammed computer leads into the exotic “Mindfields”, with Maxim back on lead vocals.  The main keyboard hook is backed by beats and samples designed to enhance.  Then we’re into the centerpiece of the album, a nine minute dance epic called “Narayan” with Crispian Mills of Kula Shaker singing and co-writing.  Sounding a lot like a Kula Shaker remix, this track is as close to standard song structures as they get on the album.  Mills’ smooth voice and knack for an exotic melody works as the perfect foil for Prodigy’s layers of beats and samples.  “OM, Namah, Narayana” goes the Indian-sounding chorus, a sound that Mills also frequently brings into Kula Shaker.

For some, the centerpiece will not be the epic, but will be the smash 1996 hit:  “Firestarter”. Infamously covered by Gene Simmons, this breakout hit became what it is because of Flint’s snotty vocals, pounding bass, and catchy samples.  What is understood need not be discussed:  this hit was destined to be.  But after all that smashing and grabbing, “Climbatize” enters the scene with stuttery Van Halen-like distortion and a soft keyboard hook.  Jungle beats and ominous keyboards distinguish this track from the others.

The closing track is the heaviest.  “Fuel My Fire”, an L7 cover with Flint on lead vocals and “Gizz Butt” (Graham Butt) on guitar.  There’s a cool keyboard hook to go along with the incessant, noisy rocking.  This second shortest track on the album is overcharged with electronic buzz and standard rock-like drums.  A brilliant closer to an album that is more of a journey than you’d expect at first glance.

Indeed, Fat of the Land cannot be distilled down to the sum of its parts.  While not overly challenging, it does layer beats and samples in such as way as there is always some form of hookiness at work.  There are a variety of tracks, both instrumental and vocal.  By the end of it, you’ll feel like you’ve been on an adrenaline-fueld, surrealistic excursion.  A weird jungle-y acid trip through the transistors of the past.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion (as “Remixomatosis”) – You’re Gone (2005 promo EP)

Welcome back to the Week of EPs! Each day this week, I’ll be checking out a variety of EP releases, both famed and obscure.

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
TUESDAY: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)
WEDNESDAY: AC/DC – ’74 Jailbreak (1984)

REMIXOMATOSIS – You’re Gone (Promotional 2005 Intact records)

REMIXOMATOSISEager to cross over to new fans, in 2004 Marillion released an album called Remixomatosis.  It was a 2 CD set of fan remixes of tracks from 2001’s Anoraknophobia.  Hogarth-era Marillion have not been remix-shy, having done something like this on 1998’s Tales From the Engine Room EP.  Aware that chances of being played in the clubs were slim, the following year Marillion released a promo EP of three more remixes under the band name Remixomatosis.  The name Marillion appears nowhere on the sleeve.

99% of the time, I really dislike remixes, especially when songs are danced up.  I bought this for the collection, but let’s give it a spin.  “You’re Gone”, originally from Marbles, sounded very little like the “Debonair Dub Mix” on this EP.  All I can hear from the original track is Hogarth’s vocals.  Maybe some keyboards, but who knows because the dominant part of the song is an annoyingly repetitive synth & beat.  This goes on for an agonizing 7:55.  This is not a song I would listen to for enjoyment.

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The “Plasma Dub Mix” of “Between You and Me” is almost twice as long as the “Marillion Vs. Plasma” version on the Remixomastosis CD.  This track adds a new bass line consisting of four notes that repeat over and over and over and over and over.  Then a little bit of Hogarth’s vocal is dubbed over synthesizer lines.  There have been better remixes of this song, notably the Mark Kelly remix from the “Between You and Me” CD single.  After a couple minutes, the remixer Robert de Fresnes throws in some acoustic guitar from the original song, which really only makes me want to hear the original song.  If you like repetitive music made by computers, go for it.

The closing track is the best (and shortest) one, the “Into the Fire Mix” of the superb “Don’t Hurt Yourself” from Marbles.  As arguably the best song on Marbles, it is a difficult track to ruin.  The remixer Cameron Lasswell wisely leaves Steve Hogarth’s vocal intact.  The vocal hooks on this song have always been fetching.  They are now cloaked in spacey synths, which I prefer to dumb repetitive synths.  It sounds like a song by Lights, perhaps, or one of her soundalikes.

I can’t rate this EP very high.  This is a collectible, pure and simple.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: David Lee Roth – “Stand Up” promo 12″ remix single

It’s THE WEEK OF SINGLES!  Each day this week I’ll be bringing you reviews and images of a recent CD or vinyl single acquisition.  Craig Fee picked this up for me at Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Monday:  Van Halen – “Best of Both Worlds” 7″ single
Tuesday:  Deep Purple – “Above and Beyond” CD and 7″ singles
Wednesday:  Aerosmith “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” 12″ single

IMG_00001369_editDAVID LEE ROTH – “Stand Up” (1988 Warner promo 12″ remix single)

I had no idea this even existed!  Craig found this one knowing it was something that I would find very interesting.  Indeed!  Promo discs sometimes do have exclusive bonus material on them, although most do not.  I generally only value a promo disc if it has some kind of rare versions on it.  This David Lee Roth 12″ has two exclusive remixes that I’ve never heard, nor heard of, before.  Both exceed 7 minutes.  These mixes were probably done in an attempt to get the song “Stand Up” played in dance clubs, a fairly common practice.  Aerosmith, for example have many such remixes, released on commercial singles.

“Stand Up” is a good choice from the Skyscraper album for such an attempt.  It was already the most pop and dance-like of the 10 tracks. These remixes were done by François Kevorkian, a name that made me chuckle a bit at first.  Craig however immediately recognized the name, and told me that he’s actually a well known mixer.  His name can be found on the credits of Depeche Mode’s Violator and Kraftwerk’s Electric Café albums, among others.

I’ve always said that remixes aren’t my thing, but I actually like these two versions of “Stand Up”.  They are both similar in style, but have traits in common.  They both have a similar sparse style that brings forward isolated elements of the mix to the forefront.  There are some vocals here that you probably haven’t heard before, because they were never that prominent.  Same with Steve Vai’s lead and rhythm guitar, which is actually used generously in these remixes.  I’m not a big fan of dance-y rhythms, but it works on “Stand Up”.

The two remixes are the “Swank Remix (E.Z. To Swallow)” and “Extended Edit (The Long 1!)”.  These unbearably annoying names had me expecting the worst, but I find this single to be quite listenable.  I kind of like them actually.  Bonus: the so-called “extended edit” has plenty of cowbell.  Cheers to François Kevorkian!

3.5/5 stars

More DAVID LEE ROTH at mikeladano.com:

Sonrisa Salvaje (Eat ‘Em and Smile 1986 – Spanish version) – Skyscraper (1988) – Your Filthy Little Mouth (1994 Japanese version) – DLR Band (1998) – Diamond Dave (2003)

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Girlfriend” 10″ shaped disc

THE DARKNESS – “Girlfriend” (2005 Warner 10″ star-shaped picture disc)

I fuckin’ love this song.  It’s not in any way typical of the music I normally like.  Maybe it’s the expertly arranged backing orchestra.  Maybe it’s Justin Hawkins’ ever more ridiculous falsetto.  Maybe it’s the key-tar solo.  Maybe it’s the sheer joie de vivre of the thing.  Whatever it is, I heartily endorse the album version of this fun, frivolous tribute to the 1980’s.

There were (I think?) four remixes of this single done, and this 10″ contains two of them.  Usually I’m well on record for disliking remixes, and the “Space Cowboy Hard & Fast Remix” is a good example of why.  It’s repetitive, and congested with noise, burying the killer hooks of the song.  One of the only things I like about the remix is that it brings out Richie Edwards’ bass a lot more, helping to humanize its robotic nature.  There’s also a moment at about the 4 minute mark with the orchestra section isolated, and I like that.

The better remix is “The Freelance Hellraiser ‘Screaming Jay Hawkins’ Remix”, whatever the hell that means.  This one featurings a backwards vocal hook, and all the familiar elements rearranged, creating what essentially sounds like an original song.  This one delivers plenty of catchy bits here and there, familiar but presented in new surroundings.  This is what I would call a great remix.

What’s the score, then?  Well, mathematically, this one works out to:

3.333~/5 stars