Reissue CDs Weekly: The Prodigy, Man Chest Hair, Jackie Ross, Del Shannon | New music reviews, news & interviews
Reissue CDs Weekly: The Prodigy, Man Chest Hair, Jackie Ross, Del Shannon
Rave-pop meatiness, forgotten Mancunian rock, classy Sixties soul and Mr Runaway attempts his own Pet Sounds
The Prodigy: The Fat of the Land 15th Anniversary Expanded Edition
Thomas H Green
Almost a decade after acid house changed the landscape of British music, it seemed rave culture was finally about to take over pop. The Chemical Brothers hit the top of the charts, assisted by Noel Gallagher, in Autumn 1996 with “Setting Sun”, Goldie led a wave of drum & bass eagerly signed by major labels, 12” singles were selling by the ton and, leading the charge, The Prodigy topped the single’s and album’s charts in mid-1997 on both sides of the Atlantic with “Firestarter” and its parent album The Fat of the Land. This was an epic feat for a bunch of cheesy quavers from Braintree, Essex. The Prodigy had developed as a rave act: one guy making the music, three of them dancing around in Bill & Ben outfits, hyping the crowd. The musical skill of producer Liam Howlett, however, combined with the demented energy of their live show, made them much bigger than just a club act. They had hits.
This 15th-anniversary edition of The Fat of the Land, their third album, arrives with a set of six remixes by contemporary producers such as Noisia, Major Lazer and Zed’s Dead but these are a wasted opportunity. Rather than reinterpret songs in any novel way, all but one attempt to amp up the madness, trying to out-Prodigy the Prodigy, an almost impossible task at which they fail.
The Fat of the Land showcased a slight change of direction. Previously, they’d been very much “owned” by ravers but Howlett now felt more aligned with punk and American rock acts such as Rage Against The Machine. At the time, the sudden arrival of riffing guitar into their sound jarred and it still doesn’t impress of tracks such as “Serial Thrilla” and “Fuel my Fire” but the amped up sneering tone sits well. Dancer Keith Flint’s step up to vocal duties, especially on the now-classic “Firestarter”, adds a real gnarliness and caustic edge. It is however, the sheer hard-funk bounce of the music that really makes the album. The controversy-baiting “Smack my Bitch Up” is a monstrous pogo-fest, “Breathe” showcases MC Maxim Reality at his crowd-leading best, there’s a real early hip hop bite to the Kool Keith-rapped “Diesel Power” and the atmospheric thrust of “Climbatize”, which samples hardcore rave gem “The Horn Track”, is relentless.
The late-Nineties rave takeover of global pop never happened. For that we had to wait until the more recent diluted Skrillex/David Guetta-led explosion. The best of The Fat of the Land, however, sounds meatier and more ballistic than ever, a snapshot whose power hasn’t palled a jot.
Manchester’s music has golden eras set in stone: the Sixties’ of The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits; punk and post-punk; Madchester. But, as this brave collection makes clear, there’s an awful lot of music from the city that’s escaped widespread attention. Man Chest Hair collects 18 tracks by 17 bands. Fifteen are previously unreleased and, of the remaining three, one was issued in Germany only. Stackwaddy (who were signed to John Peel’s Dandelion label) and The Way we Live are about famous as it gets. Savoury Duck, Greasy Bear, Urbane Gorilla suggest that matching animals to adjectives for band names was a default in pre-punk, Seventies’ Manchester – echoed later by punk band Slaughter & the Dogs? What’s heard is (mainly) unpretentious rock of varying degrees of heaviosity. Greasy Bear have a vaguely funky, West Coast vibe, while Slipped Disc might as well be The Average White Band. “Dragons never die…man will never fly…how would you like to live alone in a cave?” sing Savoury Duck, the Poundland Yes. JC Heavy’s “Is This Really Me?” is the highpoint – a swirling rocker with prog touches and a distracted -sounding female vocalist. The exhaustively annotated and lovingly compiled Man Chest Hair probably won’t rewrite history, but it is an eye opener.
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