The 100 greatest UK No 1s: No 8, The Prodigy – Firestarter

It starts with a riff : not a falsify guitar but a contorted squeal from a distorted fairground. It ’ s a riff however, the immediately sticky sign of an unstoppable hit single. Firestarter was one of the biggest pop-cultural events of 1996 and by the end of the year the Prodigy were one of the global ’ south biggest bands. The Essex four-piece ’ second first No 1 was a flash point of adolescent angst, television receiver infamy, moral panic and yellow journalism outrage, carried aloft by big-beat pyrotechnics and a deadly bombard of lyrical vitriol. “ Ban This Sick Fire Record, ” squawked the Mail on Sunday – but it was much excessively deep. The Prodigy were already a dominant coerce in dad. All but one of their singles since 1991 had made the Top 15, including 1991 ’ s Charly, the cartoon-sampling hit that excellently “ killed rave ”, according to clubbers ’ bible Mixmag. Liam Howlett, the band ’ s musical locomotive, was bored with cranking out rave hits to a formula and started experimenting with elements of rap and rock on their moment album, Music for the Jilted Generation. now the Prodigy were ready to reintroduce themselves as stadium-sized heroes with The Fat of the Land, taking dance music deep into the moshpit while promoting dancer-cum-hypeman Keith Flint to songwriter and vocalist. As an open fusillade, Firestarter was flamboyant, phantasmagoric, terrifying – and, like all the best pop songs, wholly novel. I have a dim remembrance of watching Firestarter on Top of the Pops that week. The Prodigy didn ’ t want to perform, adamant that their anarchic live energy wouldn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate translate to the nation ’ s living rooms, therefore after Gina G and PJ & Duncan had done their thing, the BBC exposed millions of new minds to the television, depicting a devilish calculate in a reverse mohican flip and gurning like a thing possessed. Too unseasoned to have any context for the music, I was transfixed but repelled, vaguely aware that this was something I credibly shouldn ’ triiodothyronine be seeing.

That scuzzy black and white nip, filmed in a disused tube tunnel, was Firestarter ’ s second video, produced on a shoestring after the Prodigy had blown £100,000 on a hated first base undertake. flint flicks his pierce tongue at the television camera, eyeballs glowing against his black eyeliner. The Prodigy came from the rant scene but this was more Marilyn Manson than Orbital, and Flint was a anguished rock idol, snarling lyrics about mental anguish and self-harm : “ I ’ m the self-inflicted heed detonator / I ’ m the bitch you hated, dirt infatuated. ”

The music crusade had been building them up as the “ electronica ” act that could ultimately crack the US, but the Prodigy didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate see themselves in that ancestry. They weren ’ thymine avant-garde like Aphex Twin and Autechre, and they weren ’ triiodothyronine purveyors of what rock writers liked to call “ faceless techno bollocks ”. Firestarter proved that the Prodigy was a writhe, sweating, fleshbound animal – the very antonym of the futuristic “ braindance ” coming from the electronic vanguard. It was pure boiling animosity, doused in gasoline and set off to ruin person ’ mho birthday party. “ I have a philosophy that most of our music works on a actually speechless tied, ” said Howlett, “ which is the floor most people understand. ” He imagined the Prodigy as a stadium-filling spectacle on a level with the rock candy bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and proto-nu-metallers Biohazard. “ No freshness sticks, no Vicks, people spitting everywhere – bright, ” as Flint put it. They evening brought in spiky-haired guitarist Gizz Butt, who ’ d played in early on hood bands such as the Destructors and English Dogs. But where then many rock-historical references of the mid-90s feel like cosy nostalgia, Firestarter squeezed a final trap of spit from the spirit of 77 while becoming a legitimate stadium-sized alternative to Oasis. The Gallaghers then urgently wanted to be adored. The Prodigy didn ’ thymine give a flip. Howlett ’ s harsh sample collisions ( a vocal rubbish saying “ hey ”, from the Art of Noise ’ s Close to the Edit, and that squealing flick, pinched from the Breeders ’ SOS ) reflect his roots as a rap DJ and breakdancer, but although he took production cues from righteous outfits including rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy, he wasn ’ thymine concern in their message. Firestarter doesn ’ t manage about anything, nor does it contain a shred of dignity. When Flint brought his “ twisted ” persona to life, he aligned himself with a 90s seam of edginess that brought us Fight Club, Tank Girl and Scream. It ’ south strange to imagine that we gawped and laughed. The decade ’ second flippant treatment of “ insanity ” is amusing now, and particularly tragic after Flint ’ s death in 2019. Journalists compared him to cartoon characters, but in those lyrics he is nothing but human. Firestarter is the worst of us, splattered on the curb for all to see. “ I wasn ’ thyroxine trying to say, ‘ attend at me, I ’ thousand Satan ! ’ But surely I ’ thousand not courteous, ” Flint told Q magazine. “ We ’ re everybody ’ s dark side. ”

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