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



#924.5: Rippin’

RECORD STORE TALES #924.5:  Rippin’ 

It’s a long weekend here in Canada, and since we’re stuck in Kitchener instead of the lake this time, I spent my Saturday ripping music to hard drive.  And then backing up that hard drive to about five other devices.  I’ve been slowly but surely putting my collection on the ol’ PC for years now, in spurts.  Huge catalogues of bands have gone un-ripped due to negligence.  It’s fun to do when I’m looking for something to listen to that I haven’t heard in a while.

Right now I’m working on my Soundgarden.  Most of my Soundgarden was sitting there on the  shelves unloved until now.  Before that, I updated my Nine Inch Nails folder with all my CDs.  Apparently I was collecting NIN right up to The Slip (2008), although I missed a few albums like The Fragile and Ghosts.

I enjoy doing pretty mechanical tasks, like combining “part 1” and “part 2” of a CD single into one folder.  Adjusting the id3 tags.  For my “March of the Pigs” double CD, I added in an mp3 of the live music video as a bonus track.  All the while, listening to this music I haven’t played in over a decade.

Remixes are not something I’ve derived a lot of enjoyment from over the years, but bands like Nine Inch Nails flood their singles with them.   And I found myself enjoying quite a few of them.  The nine minute version of “Wish” from the Fixed EP is awesome.  Might even be my go-to version!  The “Clay” mix of “Head Like a Hole” (which is on both the “black” and “pink” versions of the single) was quite enjoyable.  And I have a lot of Nine Inch Nails it seems.  Three bootlegs too, including Purest Feeling (early versions and unreleased songs), Demos & Remixes (which includes “Supernaut”) and Woodstock ’94.  Diving back in is an adventure, listening to Trent Reznor evolve.

While I was grabbing my Prodigy Fat of the Land and “Firestarter” single, I lingered in the “P” section and pulled Elvis Presley, Praying Mantis, and Gord Prior.  Praying Mantis with Paul Di’Anno and Dennis Stratton, in fact.  A lot of Maiden covers that just remind me that nobody sounds like Iron Maiden.  Nobody.  I’ll probably get more enjoyment from the Elvis 30 #1 Hits.  “Suspicious Minds” and “In the Ghetto”, oh yeah!  I know the saying goes “There are only two kinds of people, Beatles people and Elvis people”.  I’m a Beatles guy.  That’s all the Elvis I need, I’m good with it.

Moving up into the “O” section, I realized I hadn’t touched any of my Our Lady Peace.  I don’t have a lot.  A couple singles, Naveed, Spiritual Machines, Gravity and Burn Burn Burn.  Raine Maida is admittedly an acquired taste vocally and I won’t spend any time trying to convince you, or KevinSpiritual Machines is interesting for two reasons.  One, it’s a concept album about artificial intelligence, and two, I have an early copy in the rare black jewel case in perfect condition.

One thing for sure I’m noticing about these pockets of my collection.  I went big or I went home.  I have the DualDisc versions of Nine Inch Nails albums, or the CD/DVD combo sets.  I have the double CD of Badmotorfinger.  I didn’t buy the basic version of anything.  It looks like I also bought just about every single I could get my hands on.  Most of this stuff was acquired back in the Record Store days, so I had access to the rare stuff in the best condition.

Soundgarden seem to be hit or miss as far as B-sides go.  For every “Cold Bitch” there’s a “Jerry’s Garcia’s Finger”.  I see there is a super deluxe of Superunknown out there with four discs of extras.  I think I’d better just listen to what I’ve neglected before I worry about any upgrades.

Tangent:  Speaking of super deluxes, this week we were given previews for new ones from Whitesnake (Restless Heart) and Black Sabbath (Technical Ecstacy).  We have a 42 CD Judas Priest box set coming with oddles of unreleased live albums.  A Metallica “Black” album box with 14 CDs, six LPs and 6 DVDs.  There. Is. A. Lot.  It’s getting harder to pick and choose.  It’s also getting harder to find time to listen to it all.  In particular, all that DVD content.  There are not that many long weekends.

I know what my dad would say.  “Don’t you have enough music?”  Evidently!

A music collection is the kind of thing we justify by saying “It’s there for me to listen to on a rainy day.”  A long weekend home from the lake is kind of like a rainy day, so here I am enjoying the very dusty corners of my music collection.  Let’s see if these Soundgarden B-sides get any better!



#923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)

RECORD STORE TALES #923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)

I think it was around 1995 that I really gave up into the ’90s.

What do I mean by this?  It’s simple.  In late 1991, there was a sea change in rock music.  The old guard was suddenly unhip, while a new unkept kind of rock was surfacing in Seattle.  Within three years, classic rock bands such as Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, and even the once-bulletproof Guns N’ Roses were in some sort of decline, losing key band members or just breaking up completely.  They were replaced on the charts with a swath of new bands, from Nirvana, to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.  Rock had been on such a high in mid-91 with #1 albums by Skid Row, Metallica, Van Halen and more.  It only took months for the landscape to darken.  But really, the warnings were in place well back in ’89.

It was a disorienting change and it got to a point in the middle of the decade where my favourite bands were dropped, broken up, or transformed.  Bon Jovi survived this period unscathed, losing only the inconsequential Alec John Such.  They were one of the few exceptions.  Motley Crue put out a killer record with their new singer that was criminally panned at the time by its critics and many longtime fans.  Winger couldn’t catch a break.  Some of the bands that did put out records in the 90s released sub-par trash.  Quiet Riot:  guilty with Down to the Bone.  Judas Priest:  Jugulator.  Dokken:  Shadowlife.  Unless your name ended with Jovi, it seems like every old guard rock band put out albums that were crap, sold like shit, or both.  Then, half of ’em broke up.

What was a metal head to do?  Still buy the old bands’ records and hope for the best, yes, but when you’re buying so much shit on a wing and a prayer, you start looking for something else.  I had to open my heart to some newer bands that, I felt, had something in common with the old.

Here is a list of 11 bands that made their way in.

1. OASIS.  I still love those first three records, and all the B-sides that came along with the tide.  My mom got me into the Beatles, and while I never bought into that “the new Beatles” crap, I did like that Oasis brought back some of what I liked about the fab four.  They were the only Brit Pop band I could put my heart behind.  Not metal at all, but Lars liked ’em.  They had guitar solos at least.

2. GOO GOO DOLLS.  Right around the time of “Slide” and “Broadway”, I let the Goo Goo Dolls into my life.  They reminded me of Bon Jovi without the bombast (and the solos).  They would have to do during the time when I needed a surrogate Jovi, which happened in the late part of the 90s when Jon released the stinker Destination Anywhere.  Goo Goo Dolls nailed the lovestruck acoustic/electric vibe that was once a Bon Jovi strength.

3. THE BARSTOOL PROPHETS.  Amazing Canadian band that could have been the next Tragically Hip.  The Prophets might have been a little more hard edged, and I identified with their lyrics more than the labyrinthic words of Saint Downie.  T-Trev was a fan and he recommended I give ’em a try, and I have loved them since.

4. sandbox.  A band that did not win me through a friend or a music video, but through the live experience.  Opening for the Barenaked Ladies, sandbox (all lower case) were a bit gloomier and heavier.  But there was also something magical about their songs “Curious” and “Lustre”.  They soothed my soul when I was lonely.  Later on, I found out that guitarist Mike Smith was on a television show called Trailer Park Boys

5. THE PRODIGY.  Who didn’t buy Fat of the Land in ’97?  It was a good album and Crispian Miller from Kula Shaker had lead vocals on one track.  This new heavy brand of electronica had hooks and a rock-like vibe.  It was like dance-y industrial rock.  I could dig it.  They even had a guitar player named — no word of a lie — Gizz Butt.

6. THE TEA PARTY.  I couldn’t get into Splendor Solis; I foolishly dismissed the band as a Zep clone.  I came to my senses on their third album The Edges of Twilight.  The Zeppelin comparisons were obvious (and I didn’t care about the Doors), but who else was making music like this anymore?  Nobody.  The Tea Party would do!

7. SLOAN.  It was not until their fourth album Navy Blues that Sloan scratched the itch.  Yes, I was a late comer.  Yes, I got into them during their commercial peak.  But the truth is it was really their double live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale that really nailed it.  One of the best live albums since the mighty Kiss Alive.  The comparisons don’t end there, as both bands feature four lead singers — a configuration I always enjoy.  (Hello, Goodbye, Beatles!)

8. RANCID.  Incredible band, two lead singers, and one great album that just slayed me.  Many of the rock bands I liked, such as Guns and Motley, extolled the merits of their punk rock backgrounds.  Just as Zeppelin and ZZ Top encouraged me to check out Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nikki Sixx pushed the Pistols on me.  Rancid were much better than the Pistols, but they had the same snot in their noses.  Rancid brought with them the ska and reggae side, which appealed to me immediately.

9. OUR LADY PEACE.  For one album, anyway.  Maybe it was Arnold Lanni that made this band buzz for me, but they were really a single album group.  Naveed is a monster.  Jeremy Taggart was a good enough drummer for Geddy Lee!  It had some things in common with hard rock, like loud guitars.  I could build them a bridge into my heart.

10. LIVE.  I maintain that everybody bought Throwing Copper in 1995.  This band just had tremendously broad appeal.  Unusually, every song was up to the same lofty level of quality; no duds, all keepers.  A number of strong singles led to massive radio and video play, but no followup album of the same stature ever emerged.

11. NINE INCH NAILS.  I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails.  The Downward Spiral is my album when it comes to this band.  They took such a long break after it that I lost interest.  What I liked were the riffs built from noise, the layered approach, the angst, the self-loathing, and the anger.  The album is still is trip to play, but I have never liked “Piggy” or “Closer” and think them a bit contrived.  Admirable though that the video for “March of the Pigs” is 100% live, music included.

Although there were many good albums made by metal bands in the 1990s that I have not mentioned, it was not enough for a music addict.  I needed to expand my horizons or remain stuck in the past.  There were more — Ben Folds Five, Steve Earle, Robbie Williams, Mel C. (yes that Mel C.) and Tonic to name a few.  Anything that had some kind of integrity of connection to the rock music I loved.  Ben Folds didn’t even have a guitar player, but his music rocked nonetheless.  These were all great picks to sample some of the best of the 90s.  Have a listen.

REVIEW: Gene Simmons – Asshole (2004)

GENE SIMMONS – Asshole (2004 EMI)

 This unfortunately titled album is easily the worst music that Gene has ever put his name on, and that’s saying something. Sprinkled within are some good ideas hither and yon, but by and large this is pretty much shite.

Have you seen the album cover?  Am I the only one who thinks that Gene bears an unsightly resemblance to Danny DeVito’s character from Big Fish?

If Asshole wasn’t choked down in production, it might have had a couple listenable songs.  “Sweet & Dirty Love” would be a killer opener. I believe this one is a Kiss reject. It sounds like it probably was, being one of the few rock songs on the album. “Firestarter” is a horrible, horrible cover, and the unfortunate first single. I have no idea why Gene thought it was a good idea to cover a Prodigy song, but this is also the same guy who covered “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Dave Navarro — lead guitar. (Who cares?)

“Weapons Of Mass Destruction” and “Waiting For The Morning Light” are both Kiss rejects. “Morning Light” as a ballad rejected from the Revenge album, co-written by Bob Dylan. (Not the lyrics though.) It’s nothing special, and that’s why it didn’t make the Revenge album, I guess.

“Beautiful” is non-descript and not memorable in any way. The title track “Asshole” is a catchy song, albeit a total novelty that only makes my road CDs today because it is somewhat funny. It’s a cover too, by the way.  (“Bucket full of pee”?  Seriously?  That’s a lyric?)

Bob Kulick (longtime Kiss collaborator since the early days) co-wrote “Now That You’re Gone”, another song that fails to stick in the memory. I couldn’t even tell you how it goes anymore.  Better is “Whatever Turns You On”, with its catchy sing-along chorus. Unfortunately, this pop song sounds like…God, like Sugar Ray or somebody from the 90’s that we’d rather forget.

“Dog”, co-written by somebody named Bag (a Simmons Records protege I think) is another unremarkable track. I couldn’t hum it for you if you held a knife to my neck. “Black Tongue”, however is remarkable. It is remarkable because it is, somehow, a lost Frank Zappa tape that Gene resurrected and wrote a song around. That’s Frank on guitar. The Zappa family sang on it. Now, I have no idea what the hell Gene had to do with Frank Zappa. I really know of no history there.  They are diametrically opposed musically. I love Frank. It’s great that Gene found a way to get some Frank music out there, but weird that it’s in such a contrived manner. Frank’s guitar is, of course, like butter.

“Carnival Of Souls” is another Kiss reject. It was written I believe for Revenge, considered as a bonus track for Alive III, rejected for the Carnival Of Souls album (though it lent its name to it) and rejected again for Psycho Circus. Four times rejected: Gene, take the hint! It’s because the song kinda sucks!  Its chorus jars awkwardly against the rest of the song, sounding like a different animal completely.

“If I Had A Gun” is another novelty song, but probably the best song on the whole album. It’s catchy, it’s fun, but again it sounds like some 90’s band that we’d all rather forget. Len, maybe.  Name a band, fill in the blank, I’m sure you can figure out a band that this sounds like. “1,000 Dreams” is this album’s “When You Wish Upon A Star”, just pure drivel, garbage, not worth playing.

And that’s the album. There’s also a clean version with no swearing, but what’s the point?

1.5/5 stars