By Tyler Hersko
Before they were international superstars headlining the largest music festivals in the world, the men of electronic band The Prodigy were embroiled in a cultural war against the British authorities.
The early ’90s saw a police crackdown on the United Kingdom’s rave scene, forcing many of the genre’s enthusiasts into the underground. The Prodigy’s fiercely defiant response, “Music for the Jilted Generation,” served not only as a powerful proverbial middle finger to the boys in blue, but was also a monumental landmark for electronic music.
The band’s follow-up record, “The Fat of the Land,” ushered the Essex trio into the international music scene, where they exploded in a mix of critical acclaim and controversy. “Breathe” and “Firestarter” are undeniably among the greatest electronic music tracks in the genre’s history, while “Smack My Bitch Up” brought casual misogyny back to the mainstream with the kind of musical quality that today’s “edgy” artists could only dream of.
Though the full scope of The Prodigy’s musical achievements may be lost on those who weren’t 20 something ravers in the early ’90s, context isn’t required to get a thrill out of the band’s storied catalogue. That said, while The Prodigy may continue to enjoy a great deal of success performing at festivals and the like, critical and consumer reactions to the group’s post-’90s material have been less than glowing.
Sans the odd single, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can name a 21st-century song by The Prodigy, never mind someone who’d wholly recommend the records the band has released since the turn of the millennium. Six years have passed since the trio’s last album, the unevenly received “Invaders Must Die,” and it’s clear that The Prodigy is angry. Scratch that, The Prodigy is vehemently furious.
The Prodigy’s sixth record, “The Day Is My Enemy,” released yesterday, holds true to frontman Liam Howlett’s claim that the act’s next record would be its most violently intense one yet. Howlett’s promise rings startlingly true; not only is “The Day Is My Enemy” full of snarling energy that makes The Prodigy’s last decade of material appear positively sterile by comparison, it’s also by far the band’s most consistent and engaging record since its ’90s masterpieces.
The mid-paced January singles and album openers “Nasty” and title track “The Day Is My Enemy” certainly didn’t suggest that The Prodigy was ready to return to critical relevancy. Although neither of the aforementioned tracks, nor the similarly forgettable and uninspired Flux Pavilion-featured “Rhythm Bomb,” are offensively bad, they meander more than they menace.
However, those are the exceptions to the rule. When “Nasty” pewters out and “Rebel Radio” begins, it becomes clear that The Prodigy is more than ready. The gritty electronic dance music beats of “Invaders Must Die” are out in full force, but here they’re infinitely more focused and aggressive.
Genre stereotypes — Hell, post-’90s The Prodigy stereotypes, too — of gimmicky vocals and obnoxious and repetitive bass drops are entirely absent. Instead, “Rebel Radio” is as well-structured as a radio hit but retains all of the danceable energy that EDM thrives on. It’s a massive song and easily one of The Prodigy’s finest. It’ll be the nightclubs’ loss to exclude some sort of remixed version from their DJ sets in the coming months.
“Rebel Radio” may be the undeniable standout, but it’s hardly the record’s only banger. “Ibiza’s” frenzied mockery of DJ culture is perhaps the first time The Prodigy has been lyrically relevant since its inception. On the opposite end of the spectrum, album closer “Wall of Death’s” mindlessly entertaining savagery brings back fond memories of “The Fat of the Land’s” pulse-pounding outro “Fuel My Fire.”
“Rok-Weiler” and “Destroy” serve as a sort of happy medium. Galloping paces and bass drops abound, but unlike the outputs of EDM’s lesser artists, they serve to accentuate the tracks instead of dominating them.
Though it’s become clear that The Prodigy’s celebrated style of punk-inspired techno truly died with “The Fat of the Land,” the band’s foray into EDM finally makes sense. Though the record’s foundation is firmly rooted in heavy, pounding beats, most every song stands out in one way or another. Acid house, psychedelia, trance and even ambient music sneak into the record where you’d least expect it. The result: The Prodigy’s most wholesome, diverse and vocally impressive — “Rebel Radio’s” chorus may well be one of the year’s highlights — album in nearly two decades.
Naysayers may bemoan the fact that The Prodigy has more or less abandoned its underground rave roots in favor of a more accessible space. Ignore them. “The Day Is My Enemy” is The Prodigy’s unexpected return to form and a sign that the aging Essex superstars still have quite a bit of bite left in them.
Tyler Hersko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TylerHersko.