Fat of the Land

Prodigy:
Fat of the Land

[XL/Warner Bros.]
Rating: 7.9
Is it rock or is it techno? Rock, techno, rock, techno...? It doesn't much matter since The Fat of the Land has sold, at last count, 9,435,506,204 CDs over the last two months. In fact, it's sold so many albums so quickly that it really doesn't matter whether it's good or it sucks. The masses have spoken unilaterally and have thinned out their wallets in the process.

Whether or not you like the Prodigy's latest release also doesn't matter, because wherever you turn, the Prodigy are in your way. The covers of Rolling Stone, Spin and CMJ, among others. On MTV. On the radio, in most markets. On Lollapalooza. And now, most importantly, on Pitchfork, media outlet of the gods. It doesn't suck (the album, I mean), but it's not great either, no matter what other know-it-alls tell you.

Neither as fresh as Music for the Jilted Generation, nor as camp as The Experience, Fat of the Land offers some interesting sounds (the product of the prodigious Liam Howlett) and a decent variety of them. "Diesel Power," featuring Dr. Octagon's Kool Keith, is modern hip-hop dressed in techno's trappings. It works. Its monolithic bass beat pushes the song forward with an industrial mentality played at an R&B pace. And seeing this track lined up with other mediacentric favorites ("Firestarter," "Breathe") is good in an "I feel better about listening to and reviewing this album" kind of way.

Despite an effort to mix-and-match musical styles (which I applaud), "Serial Thrilla," an attempted crossover hybrid of punk rock and dance music, feels forced, generic and a little weak. Its leap into rock-oriented techno is more successfully accomplished elsewhere on Fat of the Land. The tune that makes buying the whole shabang legit, though, is "Climbatize." A solid, kick-ass instrumental superstar, it's the best sounding track by far, clicking on levels of rhythm and tone found nowhere else on the release. (Hint: use the headphones.)

They may be the bad boys of "hardcore" techno but they now run the risk of falling victim to their own enormous success. After seven years of raving, cosmetic make-overs and bad dye jobs, they've been dubiously crowned kings of popular music by the press and the album/concert ticket buying public. It's a hard position to attain, harder yet to maintain. Look at Madonna today: pop queen of the late 80s. Liam Howlett went and turned down an offer to produce her next album (whap!). What they do next time around will determine whether or not they remain on the throne.

- Jim Lewis, December 31, 1999