The Prodigy are of course the only true remaining claimants to the title of 'the last gang in town'. Since their very inception they've steered a singular path through contemporary culture. With 'Firestarter' they reintroduced the generation gap into the living room. And with 'Smack My Bitch Up' they reintroduced punk controversy into the Houses of Parliament (not to mention the PC egos of a few pop stars).
If it's statistics you want; their 1997 'Fat of the Land' album was the highest selling British album of all time going straight at #1 in 22 countries on its first week of release. In the UK the album's first week sales were in excess of the rest of the top fifty albums put together; outselling the #2 album 'OK Computer' by Radiohead by a massive eight copies to one. In the US the first week sawthe album shifting 200,959 sales. By comparison the original soundtrack to Hollywood box-office smash Men in Black, only achieved sales of 177,470 while the Spice Girls' 'Spice' album only managed a meagre 147,922. In the 18 months that followed the album release, the incendiary Prodigy live show wasexperienced by over one million fans on a tour which found them slaying over thirty five countries - in cities as diverse as Moscow (where they played to 250,000 people in the Red Square) and war torn Beirut (where they narrowly escaped electrocution and witnessed a shooting!).
In reality though The Prodigy was never about statistics. They were always about full throttle, adrenalised rock'n'roll fury, a belligerent noise in the polite chaos of unambiguous times. And a noise which has been, for far too long, silent.
Since that seminal third album Liam Howlett has remained true to his claim that there would be no more Prodigy albums until he felt it was right. If that meant never again, so be it. Unlike any other artist of his generation, Liam has completely avoided the endless conveyer belt of pointless single after aimless album, all churned out to meet contractual obligations. He's stood firm and remained true.
Not that the time in between has been entirely without musical venture in The Prodigy camp. First up was Liam's critically acclaimed old skool mix album 'Prodigy Present Dirtchamber Vol. 1' which found the one time award winning DJ returning to his days of manipulating the wheels of steel. Initially the set was puttogether for Mary-Anne Hobbs' 'Breezeblock' show on Radio 1, however Liam enjoyed the process so much that he decided to extend it. The resulting album a masterpiece of cut'n'paste post-tribal turntablism.
In the months that followed Liam took his DJing skills into selected clubs around Britain, once again to critical acclaim. He wasn't however entirely unproductive on the studio front. In 2000 he teamed up with Massive Attacks' 3D to create the yet to be released 'No Souvenirs' - initially for the soundtrack to the movie of Alex Garland's 'The Beach', but then withdrawn because they felt it was too good to throw away. The duo also produced the soundtrack to a porn movie called 'The Uranus Experiment' . The resulting track, 'Titan', offering a gorgeous collision of downtempo beats and psychedelic freeform analogue synths.
The rest of the band also explored new avenues in this time. Maxim (he hasn't been Reality since 1995!) delivered a solo album called 'Hell's Kitchen' which found him collaborating with hip hop legends like Divine Styler, Diamond J, Blood of Abraham and Poetic, and indie darlings Skin and Sneaker Pimps. Keith Flint not only indulged in his love of motor bike racing, but also took the time to learn to play guitar and started demoing his own compositions for future release. While Leeroy Thornhill quit the band to pursue his own solo dreams.
However it was Keith's guitar playing and songwriting which provided Liam with the key to the new Prodigy material. Initially Liam and Keith teamed up with a friend to jam round at Keith's house. Like a garage band in reverse, the resulting tapes were then sampled by Liam and developed as new Prodigy tracks. 'Nuclear' and 'Trigger' subsequently gained their first public airing on The Prodigy's 2001 summer festival shows in Europe.
When Keith recorded a demo of 'Baby's Got a Temper' however the lyrics immediately inspired Liam to get working on what was to become the band's new single. 'Baby's Got a Temper' Prodigy-style was first played out on the band's triumphant Big Day Out tour in Australia at the beginning of the year and then worked on throughout the following two months.
The finished version of 'Baby's Got a Temper' finds The Prodigy stepping forward into the most abrasive territory they have yet explored. A gargantuan track which takes the fire of the Sex Pistols and the noise of Public Enemy's Bomb Squad and turns them into something which is one hundred per cent The Prodigy. Indeed 'Baby's Got a Temper' proved to be the high point of the band's April 2002 USA jaunt for the Coachella Festival. And doubtless will have similar explosive impact on their forthcoming Summer 2002 European Festival shows.
In 2001 Liam told NME that The Prodigy were 'still relevant as fuck.' In 2002, with The Prodigy juggernaut jolting into action once more, Liam, Keith and Maxim are more than relevant, they are the most important band of our time. Still walking their own path. Still in a league of their own. Still the last gang in town. Always outnumbered, never outgunned - as someone once said.
This baby's got a temper...