Album Review: The Prodigy – Music For The Jilted Generation
Album Review: The Prodigy – Music For The Jilted Generation by Michelle Dhillon
Music For The Jilted Generation came two years after The Prodigy’s debut album, Experience. Although it was a debut very much of its time, Experience has so many layers and facets to it, so much awareness of the type of samples used, that you cannot just dismiss it as ‘kiddy rave’. AC/DC mingles with LuLu, Kate Bush with Aswad, Run DMC and Arthur Brown. It’s all chaotic, hyper experimental and very, very British. The large succession of single releases from Experience meant that critics did write it and the band off though.
Then, in 1994, came Music For The Jilted Generation: an album that is all at once emblematic of its time, and yet manages to skilfully transcend the early 1990’s rave scene by many decades. Although no band has ever really come close for courting such widespread controversy as The Sex Pistols did in 1977, early 1990s rave music and culture spread fear throughout a conservative middle England. The Criminal Justice Bill sought to make raves, or ‘music with repetitive beats’ illegal. Looking back, it’s quite bizarre to think that any government would seek to do this, but they did.
Album Review: The Prodigy – Music For The Jilted Generation
By definition then, the music that acts like The Prodigy were making in the early 90’s was seen as part of drug culture and totally unacceptable. The Prodigy deliberately position themselves as being firmly apart of the counter culture on Jilted, wholeheartedly embracing it and sticking two fingers up to the establishment. This becomes literal on the inner album sleeve, with a long-haired hippy ‘raver’ sticking his middle finger up to police. It’s really all an image though. This was evident when Keith Flint stated at the height of the band’s Firestarter notoriety in 1996 that, when not running around sewers with rats, he “loved to help little old ladies cross the road”.
The album’s Intro is a short eerie statement accompanied by sounds of someone typing: “So, I’ve decided to take my work back underground. To stop it falling into the wrong hands.” This is a reference to a film released at the time, but for me, it’s a clear statement from Liam Howlett to the critics that had written The Prodigy off as populist rave, as well as a pointless attempt to align themselves with more of an ‘underground’ rave movement. It’s ironic really because The Prodigy became more popular with every new album release.
Break and Enter starts with steady industrial ‘repetitive’ beats layered with the sound of breaking glass. This becomes processed and more definite with the addition of a heavier bassline (the dawn of Big Beat), and yes, very ‘ravey’. Break and Enter, like Speedway, doesn’t quite manage to become something very special but it’s a good example of the type of music that acts like Orbital were making at the time, and signposts the Big Beat sound The Chemical Brothers would go on to hijack and ultimately refine.
A precursor to the punk ethos that would hallmark all subsequent work
Their Law, with its chugging guitar riffs, is a precursor to the punk sound and ethos that would permeate 1997’s The Fat of the Land and firmly hallmark all subsequent work. The track features Pop Will Eat Itself and predates Keith Flint’s metamorphosis into the bastard lovechild of Johnny Rotten by some years. It’s a powerful number that celebrates illegal rave culture in the vocal samples and lyrics: “What we’re dealing with here is a total lack of respect for the law” and “F*** ‘em and their law.”
There was one track that really brought me back to this album – and that track is Voodoo People. Starting with a raw sampled guitar riff, once the thumping drum ‘n’ bass is added, along with rather primitive tribal samples, it just sounds jaw-droppingly awesome, addictive and LOUD. This is a killer track that still sounds fresh and contemporary 23 years on. For me, Voodoo People is the lynchpin of Jilted and shows Liam Howlett’s musical prowess hitting genius level.
Poison starts with Howlett swearing after being interrupted by a phone call. This track, with its warped beats and call and response vocals from The Prodigy MC Maxim Reality, is a forerunner to their seminal 1996 single, Breathe. It also sounds very industrial and again, addictive.
Jilted sees Howlett establish the dual rock and dance footholds of The Prodigy’s shapeshifting sound, a groundbreaking stroke of genius that would change the face of British music and finally catapult The Prodigy onto a global stage in 1996.
No Good (Start The Dance), with its stuttering breakbeats, spasmodic synthetic riffs and 80’s vocal sample, acted as a wake-up call to all wannabe teen ravers everywhere. Accompanied by a video of all band members dancing manically in a warehouse, it heralds the beginning of the more sinister and controversial music and videos to come with The Fat of the Land.
One Love uses tribal samples and rhythms as seen on Voodoo People, only to a more manic effect, but the clear and sudden shift in pace from frenetic EDM to the chilled bassline making up the backbone of The Narcotic Suite equates to the typical ‘comedown’ after taking drugs like Ecstasy. It’s a bit weird and jarring, but the change in pace doesn’t detract from the fact that The Narcotic Suite is composed of some downright solid tunes. It even includes live flute parts – which Liam Howlett originally invited Ian Anderson of Prog dinosaurs Jethro Tull to perform – tipping a hat to the original hippy trippy ‘peace and love’ era of the 1970’s.
With Jilted, Liam Howlett firmly established The Prodigy as much more than just a two-dimensional UK Top 10 rave act. Jilted is a standout album in its own right, rather than a collection of hyperactive, throwaway singles. Yes the album is distinctly EDM and there are many elements of the classic rave sound, but these are massively propelled forward by punk, metal and Prog influences, political statements, more focused samples, and a burning ambition to achieve more. Jilted also sees Howlett establish the dual rock and dance footholds of The Prodigy’s shapeshifting sound, a groundbreaking stroke of genius that would change the face of British music and finally catapult The Prodigy onto a global stage in 1996.