When the Prodigy’s Keith Flint passed away earlier this year, it felt like an era died with him. For many, Keith was the Prodigy: the firestarter igniting rave’s demonic silhouette at a global scale on 1996’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’. So it’s easy to forget that before Flint’s snarl ever made it to record, the Prodigy were already tearing at the edges of what rave could be.
When ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ was released in 1994, UK rave’s heyday was already waning. While hardcore splintered into clubs and subgenres, ‘Jilted’ instead revisited and re-energised the sound’s origins in hip-hop and punk rock. Producer Liam Howlett and dancer-MCs Flint and Maxim Reality promised not a return to the underground but an unholy matrimony of rave’s anarchic spirit and, well, everything and the kitchen sink.
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Over 13 wildly different tracks, ‘Jilted’ swerves between the cinematic (on adrenaline-infused chase sequence ‘Speedway’) and the stadium (on rock-rave manifestos ‘Their Law’ and ‘Voodoo People’). Elsewhere, its final, three-part ‘Narcotic Suite’ finds Howlett furthest from his comfort zone, stretching rave tropes to urbane electronica (‘3 Kilos’) and sci-fi mind-benders ‘Skylined’ and ‘Claustrophobic Sting’.
End to end, the record tests the limits both of hardcore experimentalism and its original CD format - Howlett himself later regretting its 78-minute running time. Ambitious, yes. Interesting throughout, absolutely - though judge the flute solos on ‘3 Kilos’ for yourself.
Really, the power of the record shone through not on these high-minded outliers but on its string of hits - arguably the Prodigy’s finest, where Howlett’s craft reached new heights. ‘Jilted’ was packed full of hooks, even though few of them were what you’d call melodic.
Sure, there are tunes: the pitched-up vocals on ‘Break And Enter’ and ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’, the stadium-worthy shredding on ‘Their Law’. But take standout ‘Voodoo People’ for example: borrowing a two-tone riff from Nirvana’s ‘Very Ape’, it barely shifts from one note, and is the better for it. Even its anthemic synth part is more squelch and distortion than melody, as can also be said for the chainsaw-synth on ‘Poison’ - a slow motion sledgehammer blow of a record that squeezes endless musicality from a juggernaut breakbeat chassis.
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It’s this weird alchemy of muted melody, texture and production tricks that stick in the brain. The magic of the Prodigy lies in these staccato, concentrated bursts of noise and energy, neatly described by Maxim’s refrain on ‘Poison’: a “pulsating rhythmical remedy”. But a remedy for what? Who jilted this generation? Sharp as edges, this album undoubtedly deepened rave’s affinity to anti-authoritarian punk.
‘Their Law’ famously soundtracked the pushback against 1994’s anti-rave Criminal Justice and Public Order Act - the musical equivalent to its sleeve art’s notorious middle finger to the cops. And yet, as Howlett as insisted, this wasn’t politics; the Prodigy always embodied a feeling of lashing out, at whatever.
And perhaps that was both their deepest cynicism and most prodigal genius. After all, Keith Flint’s iconic status in pop culture rests on a similarly infectious kind of catch-all rebelliousness: just burn it all, and have a party while you’re at it.
Live, this was always the Prodigy's stock in trade, a terrifying euphoria that at any moment could switch either to utopia or apocalypse - and this formula found its purest expression in 1994. If Flint was the Prodigy’s devilish master of rave ceremonies, then ‘Jilted’ is its dark text.
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'Music For The Jilted Generation' was released on July 4th, 1994.
Words: Callum McLean
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