The claustrophobic confines of a west London attic hideaway. Walls, covered in heavyweight purple curtains seem to bring the dimly lit room’s parameters collapsing in as a huge computer screen’s wallpaper radiates the green glow of long hot summer. Its pastoral image of feudal tranquillity is the room’s only window on the world. Look closer and there’s a twist in this Constable painting. In the middle of the painter’s rustic overtures sits a stolen burnt out car. It’s an urban blight on England’s countryside, a twisted interruption on this green and pleasant land.
More than just a screen saver though, the image, one of Banksy’s infamous reworkings of old masters, is the perfect visual accompaniment to the aural assault that is pounding from the room’s speakers. Sweat soaked b-lines thunder with adrenalised breakcore attitude; rushing keyboard hooks come on like a futurebound flashback; guitars crack and vocals snap.
It’s the sound of The Prodigy mixing up genres, contorting the past and rewiring the future. The Prodigy ramraiding through the tranquillity of music’s status quo like a blot on the landscape of England’s dreaming. The Prodigy with a short, sharp and brutal declaration of intent. Still underground after all these years. Still true to the dream.
Invaders Must Die is the fifth album from a band long synonymous with bringing urban disruption to the countryside. Like uninvited guests dirtying up the landscape they’ve long trodden paths supposedly to them.
On debut album Experience, their rough-around-the-edges, renegade-break psychosis soundtracked rave’s free party antics at a time when dance artists weren’t supposed to release albums. The follow up Music for the Jilted Generation dragged guitars from rock’s bloated grasp, fused metal to dysfunctional beat alchemy and stormed the heartland of rock music’s venues at a time when dance acts were only supposed to play raves.
With 1997’s The Fat of the Land and it’s brace of radio and MTV hogging singles (‘Firestarter’, ‘Breathe’, ‘Smack My Bitch Up’) The Prodigy stormed the world’s festivals, headlined stages usually reserved for rock’s establishment and walked like Gods where other press-friendly artists failed to tread – and dance artists were previously uninvited.
With 2004’s Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned the vibe turned its back on live shows and arena exposure and took the music back to an underground that had tried to turn its back on them. Gatecrashers once more, The Prodigy answered nay sayers with an astounding set of dumb ass electro punk classics. A DJ beats album that couldn’t be played out live, from an act that had taken the live gig by the scruff of its neck, redefined it and made it its own. This wasn’t what The Prodigy were meant to do.
Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned acted as much as a catharsis for Liam Howlett as it was a chance to reset the Prodigy programme. The following year’s greatest hits package Their Law not only came as a timely reminder as to just how epoch defining the band were, but also reintroduced the world to the greatest live show on earth. In the arena tour that followed Their Law the band played voodoo with their rave classics, reworked and rewired their smouldering best and reminded old ravers and young rockers alike just how potent a force they actually are. And if that wasn’t all, it reminded The Prodigy how important it is to rock it live.
The tour provided some of the greatest performances of their career and gave the inspiration for their next set – an album designed to play live, an album of short, succinct tracks with none of the over indulgent frills normally associated with electronic dance music. A set of tracks that arrive like an unwanted carbuncle on the over designed veneer of contemporary culture and go out like glorious victors in a war against the negativity of outsiders. Once again The Prodigy aren’t playing to the script others have written for them.