Jan 14

PRODIGY – “Breathe”

Popular55 comments • 7,743 views

#751, 23rd November 1996

Breathe_Prodigy The Prodigy’s success was built on two things: Liam Howlett’s remarkable feel for how to carve a collection of exciting sounds into a track, and the group’s increasing attraction to aggro of a particularly surly, lairy, kind. As long as the two develop in step, the results can be brutally thrilling. Once he loses his touch craft-wise – for me, either during or after this album – the lad’s mag roughness gets very tiresome very fast.

On “Breathe”, the tension between the two sides of the band is at its most productive. “Firestarter” was sharp and well-cut, but there was a brightness to it as well:Keith Flint’s gleeful Lydonisms were a counterpoint to the tune’s gleaming edges. On “Breathe” he should be in his element – this sounds how the “Firestarter” video looked, subterranean, murky and hostile.

Each of the sounds on “Breathe” is beautifully shaped and designed to scare you. The tense robot twang of the opening riff; the shrapnel bursts of drums; the rapid, rolling darkness of the bass, it’s all aiming to leave you keyed up and ready for violence. Two noises in particular build that tension, but also call back to tracks from a few years earlier. The siren crescendo that slides along the edge of “Breathe” sometimes sounds like a straight lift from Sabres Of Paradise’s hypnotic “The Theme”, from ram-raider movie Shopping. And the best sound of “Breathe” – the slicing percussion riff that sounds like the whip of a thin steel blade – reminds me of J.Saul Kane’s Depth Charge project, full of kung-fu samples and dusty threat. “Breathe” is taking its cues from the recent past, and from records which were avowedly cinematic – if it’s not quite that mid-90s conceit, music for an imaginary film, it’s certainly placing its menace and violence as film violence. This is dance music as grindhouse soundtrack.

So the question then is: does this finely crafted, tremendously atmospheric track need two guys yelling goofy shit over the top of it? Unlike with “Firestarter”, I didn’t spend months of my life playing videogames to the instrumental mix, so I can’t imagine “Breathe” without Keith and Maxim Reality. And the excitement definitely stays up when they’re doing stuff, but the atmosphere leeches away a bit for me. This isn’t at all Maxim Reality’s fault – his desperate “Inhale – inhale – you’re the victim!” and sinister “Breathe with me!” double down on the tension the track has already earned. Keith is more of a goon. He gets the memorable hook – “Come – play – my – GYEEAAME!” – but he’s scribbling over too much of the track. “Psychosomatic addict insane!” is a lovely consonant-pile up, but we’re getting Keith in berserker mode when the music promised the precision deadliness of kung fu. Of such reversals of expectation is pop greatness made, but it’s why I find “Breathe” – for all its gorgeous threat – a lot more exhausting than “Firestarter”.



  1. 1
    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 22 Jan 2014 #

    “Psychosomatic addict insane!” Prodigy get all daaark on Popular http://t.co/5xKaxuqBn2

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 22 Jan 2014 #


  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jan 2014 #

    I remember the single, album and band being a big hit with the pupils I was teaching at this time – for them it must have sounded new and exciting but to me it seemed a reheated version of past rebellions, including their own previous number 1. Listening now I can appreciate the craft in the use of samples and dynamics but it’s a bit like appreciating the woodwork in a fairground haunted house.

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 22 Jan 2014 #

    As an unlikely comparison, the give & go, in & out, inhale & exhale trope is remarkably similar to the chorus of Kate Bush’s similarly titled “Breathing”. Obviously, you couldn’t find two different songs, but the difference is unimportant. The sense of paranoia is the same. With Kate, she’s sealed in her bubble, but still convinced the outside contamination is seeping in and slowly killing her. With Prodigy, the paranoia is their inability to escape their own filthy world they’ve created for themselves. All that’s left is to give in and revel in their grimy kingdom and succumb to the inevitable onset of disease and ruin.

    The apocalyptic “Breathing” was entirely apposite in the shadow of The Bomb. “Breathe”, however points to an unnamed fear. Something much more harder to put you finger on. If there’s no threat of a bomb to wipe us out, then what? Edwina’s eggs? John’s beefburgers? And if wasn’t the food scares, it was the more nebulous threat of climate change. Of course all this is skewed Daily Mail-style unfocused fear, but fear nonetheless. What can you do when fear is at its lowest ebb, but to invent some?

    This of course has nothing to do with Liam or Keith or Maxim. Their fear was probably little more than the effects of a moody pill or a weed whitey. But “Breathe” tapped into something. Compared to the other #1s of 1996, it seems out of place. The Tory government of the day was mired in sleaze and sat arrogantly complacent in power. When I think back to those final months before New Labour, I find myself recalling “Breathe” as the appropriate soundtrack to it all.

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    Rory on 22 Jan 2014 #


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    Chelovek na lune on 22 Jan 2014 #

    Too obviously”Firestarter Part 2″ for its own good: but still (from my rural exile), this very urban-sounding music (in the sense, solely, of referring to cities, and concrete-dominated parts of, above all) was extraordinarily intimidating and attention-seeking, demanding a warped parody of “respect” with menaces.

    The space in “Breathe” that (the vocal version of) “Firestarter” lacks, the slowing-down and restarting, makes, to these ears, both the lyrical and musical assaults here that much more effective than those of the earlier single. “Firestarter” at times seems to be a bit – for show. Here there is no show, no pretence of being “a troublemaker” (while maybe, in fact, being more mouth than trousers), only unrelieved brutality, menace, and squalour, too. The menacing sneers here are wonderful. And somehow more powerful, less adolescent than those in the earlier number. Great apocalyptic metal-dance. “You’re the victim”. And don’t you know it.


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    mapman132 on 22 Jan 2014 #

    Bit of a palate cleanser after R&J….

    A decent record, but doesn’t quite scream out “hit” to me the way “Firestarter” did. This feels more subdued, almost more of an album track. My gut feel initially was that this was one of those coattails #1’s that seemed increasingly prevalent in the UK starting around this time. A quick look at Wikipedia shows my gut feel to be quite wrong, as “Breathe” hit #1 in at least 5-6 other countries as well as the overall Eurochart. Most surprising to me was its #2 placement in Australia where “Firestarter” reached a measly #22…

    So, my above analysis is probably biased by “Breathe”s weak performance in America where it got overshadowed by “Firestarter” and “Smack My Bitch Up” (remember in the US, this only there was only about a six month span between these three releases in 1997). It got some radio and video play but not a lot.

    6/10 from me.

  8. 8
    Brendan F on 22 Jan 2014 #

    It didn’t excite me in the same way as Firestarter did. It all seemed quite familiar in a way, whereas Firestarter had come out of nowhere – even compared to Prodigy’s earlier songs.

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    Fivelongdays on 22 Jan 2014 #

    The Prodigy had started the fire, so how could they keep it going? The answer is this – to make a record that sounds as menacing as Firestarter is thrilling and, to my mind, is even better. A record that repudiates the cliches of dance – the only way they’ll set you free is if they break into your prison – and gives everyone something to be scared of. This is the final part of the ‘Dance Music Doesn’t Have To Be Shit’ trilogy of 1996, and it’s the best part. Hard to choose a best bit, but Maxim – sidelined on the previous single – warning? invitation? threat? promise? of ‘Breathe with me’ starts the record off perfectly, and the track never stops delivering. By now, we were all playing their game.


    The footnote to this, though, is probably the real story. When The Fat Of The Land came out, it seemed to be the one record that people at school loved. Whether you were a rocker, a dance fan, an indie kid or a popster, you had that album. And why wouldn’t you? It’s a classic.

    And, for what it’s worth, after TFOTL came out, they released a single that was even better than this – Smack My Bitch Up is utterly glorious, bashing you round the head from the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-PCP-by-the-Bunnied-Welsh-Band intro all the way through the opening call to arms, through the warbly-singing-doesn’t-have-to-be-shit bit, to the WONDERFUL moment when that ends and – SMACK MY BITCH UP! – the main track returns. A pure 10.

    (Yes, I know I’ve spent more time talking about SMBU than Breathe, but hey-ho).

  10. 10
    anto on 22 Jan 2014 #

    I always much preferred this to ‘Firestarter’ (and certainly think it was better than the follow-up with the ugly title). There’s something aberrant about a single like ‘Breathe’ going all the way to number one. I’m glad the review picked out the sound which has always put me in mind of a glass whiplash pranging an anvil (it has to be a glass whiplash, mind). Also I kind of like the way Maxim and Keith Flint play up their roles. The whole thing correalated with one of the better music videos of the time.
    It’s jumping ahead a little but I’m not entirely convinced British music was lapsing into conservatism in 1996-97 as much as is now claimed. I remember it quite differently and if anything there was a brief period when out-there sounds were very much favoured. I’ll point to ‘Breathe’ as one such example, and what the heck – I think of this as Liam Howlett’s finest moment.

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    Tom on 22 Jan 2014 #

    My macro take on the Prodigy (did I go into this on the FS thread?), which probably colours my mark and my impression of Breathe, is that they had been getting worse with every album, and Fat Of The Land is no exception. The Prodigy Experience was glorious – one of the best, possibly THE best rave album – delirious and rammed with ideas, hooks, teenage chutzpah and a sense of auteurism in a genre which hadn’t had much of one (and didn’t need it, except probably did for LP length exercises): it’s the A Hard Day’s Night of rave, in other words. Jilted Generation was harder-edged with a couple of brilliant singles but their blokey posturing was starting to creep in and the much-vaunted drugs trilogy was a bit of a chore. “Firestarter” was a sudden and unexpected return to form, still aggressive but with a clean, sexy pop edge. But “Breathe” actually set the tone for the album. There are a couple of wonderful tracks on FOTL – I forget the name of the really building, brooding one that’s my favourite – but I barely played it compared to the others. The last straw wasn’t “Smack My Bitch Up” – a well-put-together track spoiled by a schoolboyish sample choice (though its use in Charlie’s Angels (of which more much later on Popular) is terrific) but its tedious ‘PC-baiting’ video and its shitty twist. Yeah, OK, I thought, this is the game they’ve promised, and I’m out. Nothing they’ve done since has proved me wrong.

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    enitharmon on 22 Jan 2014 #

    Not got anything to say about this, just checking to see if my picture is working.

    Ah, so it is!

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    Tom on 22 Jan 2014 #

    Hi Rosie!!

    (I need to get a Gravatar sorted out, it’s what all the cool commenters are doing.)

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    Brendan F on 23 Jan 2014 #

    I only got round to buying Jilted Generation. I tend to prefer their earlier songs so that album seemed quite subdued by the standards of Out of Space or Charly. Not sure why I never got round to buying FOTL. I guess The Chemicals were able to satisfy my dance itch along with my favourite dance album Leftism.

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    thefatgit on 23 Jan 2014 #

    #11 “the brooding one” I think is called “Mindfield”. I have some lasting love for the track Crispian Mills guested on.

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    Kinitawowi on 23 Jan 2014 #

    So Firestarter and Breathe were the big angry singles, but being totally divorced from most of clubland my knowledge of the Prodigy came from one of those 100% Dance compilations my sister acquired from somewhere, and neither of those two could hold a candle to No Good or Out Of Space. Couple that with later exposure to the album tracks while at Uni and broadly speaking, I’m with Tom at #11; it’s Mindfields and Climbatize that stick with me, not Firestarter and Breathe.

    4. I could stretch to a 6 for Firestarter.

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    Alfred on 23 Jan 2014 #

    For we Tricky fans stateside who loved “Pre-Millenium Tension” and the Nearly God project but heard how wave upon meticulous wave he’d boxed himself in musically, “Breathe” was a thrill — a breath, if you will.

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    Billy Hicks on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Nope, same thoughts as with Firestarter for me – a cartoon cut-out version of a band who for the first few years of their existence absolutely ruled and then lost their way with FotL. Experience is early 90s rave heaven, Jilted Generation is a mid-90s masterpiece, Fat of the Land is for Radio 1 listeners and angsty teenagers thinking they’re cool. 5 or 6.

    Saying that, Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned is a mess and Invaders Must Die is definitely their best since Jilted but still basically a Pendulum tribute album – a group who followed a similar path with ‘Hold Your Colour’ perhaps the best dance album of the noughties, then steadily getting worse, blander and poppier with every follow-up. We won’t see them here as they only peaked at #4 with one of their worst singles.

    It seems however, and to my delight, that ‘Out of Space’ (a massive 10 for me had it reached #1!) seems to be the most-known Prodigy track to the current generation – it’s the one I’ve heard the most in clubs over the last few years. The band also use it as their set closer when 15 years ago it would have surely been this or Firestarter.

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    Billy Hicks on 23 Jan 2014 #

    …saying all that, Smack My Bitch Up is as good as anything they did for their first two albums I think. That and ‘Omen’ are their two best post-1995 singles.

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    swanstep on 23 Jan 2014 #

    A negligible single from a US perspective, possibly because in 1996, (horrible, past-their-sell-by-date, pseudo-grunge band) Bush’s single ‘Machinehead’ with its galling exhortation to ‘Breathe In Breathe Out…’ was still all over modern-rock radio and MTV. An immediate channel-changer for me, I feel like (at least in the US) ‘Machinehead’ probably killed off breathing-imagery in pop for at least half a decade (hell, Q-Tip’s monster ‘Breathe and Stop’ couldn’t do better than #70 in the charts in 2000 – Bush’s fault, I’m sure of it :)).

    Anyhow, I find ‘Breathe’ a little less impressive, a little less exciting, than ‘Firestarter’ – it starts and then it stops without ever really building or going anywhere or even leaving much of an impression (although “Don’t – play – my – GYEEAAME!” makes me want to put on Aphex’s ‘Come To Daddy’: “Iyeeeeee – want – your – SOOUULLL!”). Still, it’s fun to see this (even not completely successful) aggressive stuff at the top of the charts – the “‘Dance Music Doesn’t Have To Be Shit’ trilogy” as Fivelongdays@#9 puts it:

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    hectorthebat on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Sample watch: The “play my game” hook is from ‘I’m a Man’ by The Spencer Davis Group. The sword effect is from ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ by Wu-Tang Clan. The drums are from ‘Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed’ by Thin Lizzy.

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    Tom on 23 Jan 2014 #

    “Come To Daddy” – of course! Yes, CTD was definitely the snob’s horrorcore electronica track of choice in 1997 (though a lot of that is cos of its astounding video). “Girl/Boy Song” was this year though, and one of the best 1996 singles.

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    Cumbrian on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Is there a single edit of this? When I listened to it, I only found versions (on Spotify) from the album at 5 or 6 minutes long* and I suspect this profoundly changed my view on this record – because by the end I was getting a little bit bored. All the best bits, the hooks and standout samples (the Wu Tang sword clashes in particular) are introduced early in the piece, so by the end I definitely got the sense that this had blown everything in the first 3 minutes or so. A bit shorter and I might have a different opinion – maybe I should search around on Youtube.

    * I am going to look bloody stupid if the album version is the single version and it just felt to me like it was going on forever, without me actually checking the time stamp. Though maybe that does say something about how I feel about it.

    Since we’re done with The Prodigy (I think), there are some other things that have been pointed out by Billy and Tom that I’d agree with. Omen is excellent – feels like a great clash between Experience era and FOTL era Prodigy and hopefully shows that Liam Howlett has still got it in him to produce another great record. Other than that, I’d also agree with Tom that their output got worse, at first slowly but then at gathering pace, from the first album onwards. “Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned” in particular seems both like a greater waste of a fantastic sloganeering title than “Chinese Democracy” (seems a perfect fit for The Prodigy’s image – I can imagine The Clash producing a record similarly titled to fit in with their mythos – but married to The Prodigy’s record, the title feels like the most important thing about it) and a bigger let down from a massive 90s album than…well, we’ll get to that, d’you know what I mean?

  24. 24
    Tom on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Wikipedia says there’s a single edit, and I bought it and from memory agree, but the LP version is the one that made it onto their singles collection. Shorter is almost always better, obviously – we’re entering a phase of pointlessly extended #1s, actually, it becomes a real problem in 1997.

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    Cumbrian on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Cheers. It must be that the single edit is on the video, you’d think. Maybe I should be going to Youtube more than Spotify to listen to some of the upcoming #1s.

    It’s not just singles either. We’re definitely also in the era of albums being as long as there is space on a CD. This is also mostly for the worse, in my opinion. Off the top of my head, only Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen… justified going on for 70 minutes.

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    Steve Mannion on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Isn’t Keith yelling “Come play my game” rather than “Don’t…”? Somehow he also makes ‘play’ sound like ‘buy’. An actual Prodigy video game seems like something that should’ve happened (polygonal Keith breaking into Wipeout-vehicles GTA-style and using them to mow down The Man and his reptiloid army in time to Liam’s bonus beats).

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    Tom on 23 Jan 2014 #

    It feels like about 50% of videogames since this are Prodigy videogames.

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    tm on 23 Jan 2014 #

    It’s not ‘Don’t Play My Game’ it’s ‘Come Play My Game’ which is far more menacing I reckon. Got loads to say about this track, The Prodigy and what was going on with me at the time which I’ll try to post after a day of decorating!

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    Tom on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Sorry, yes, I’m the worst at quoting lyrics properly – corrected in the post now.

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    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Oh yeah, morning repost for the Popular entry on “Breathe” with Scary Keith and Scary Maxim doing their scary thing. http://t.co/5xKaxuqBn2

  31. 31
    Alex on 23 Jan 2014 #

    When The Fat Of The Land came out, it seemed to be the one record that people at school loved. Whether you were a rocker, a dance fan, an indie kid or a popster, you had that album. And why wouldn’t you? It’s a classic.

    Evidence of this: somebody actually stole my copy.

    I’m not entirely convinced British music was lapsing into conservatism in 1996-97 as much as is now claimed. I remember it quite differently

    Yes, this idea is basically 20/20 hindsight. That, and the way the people who claimed to hate Britpop the most didn’t seem to listen to anything else, the better to stoke up their hatred.

    ‘Out of Space’ (a massive 10 for me had it reached #1!) seems to be the most-known Prodigy track to the current generation – it’s the one I’ve heard the most in clubs over the last few years

    I’ve mentioned this before, but Jamie xx played “No Good/Start The Dance” at the XOYO 1st birthday a few years back. we did.

    It’s also true that both Fat of the Land and Jilted were games music…great for a turning dogfight with the mutants.

  32. 32
    Doctor Casino on 23 Jan 2014 #

    “Bake sale! Bake saaaaaaale!”

    The US didn’t have, to my memory, the big gap between “Firestarter” and “Breathe” – they got their big push with the album and I remember both getting moderate airplay more or less around the same moment. Of the two I think “Breathe” is richer if less fun or more boring. To my ears the vocals, especially Maxim’s, are essential for it not just becoming a repetitive slog, but I feel this way about lots of electronic music and I recognize it as a rock/popist position. I was getting into Wu-Tang around this time too and I imagine that the craft of creepy soundscapes was a huge part of the appeal of this for me.

    Interestingly, it’s the percussion that most exhausts me on it now. The moment where it cuts back to this much more elementary mix with the strummy guitar and the little arpeggiating electronic prangle bonging around – now that’s nifty, and takes me back to the moment much more clearly than the rest.

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    23 Daves on 23 Jan 2014 #

    #21 …and astonishingly, it took me years to realise that despite owning both records. I just utterly failed to make the connection, whereas normally I’m anal enough to spot insignificant little samples all over the place.

    I would suggest that “I’m A Man” has actually aged a lot more gracefully than “Breathe”, certainly if the response I’ve seen present-day audiences give to DJs playing the tracks is anything to go by. “Breathe” really does seem to have been sidelined in most people’s minds as the less interesting brother to “Firestarter”, whereas “I’m A Man” still stokes an enormous dancefloor response (and not without reason- it’s wonderful).

    But while we’re on the topic of the status of “Breathe” within the Prodigy’s back-catalogue, I’m sure I remember it selling half a million copies in the UK and sticking around in the charts for some considerable time. It certainly wasn’t completely a fanbase propelled hit like the Chemical Brothers effort from a couple of months before – I just think that it’s become a bit sidelined in the years since. 7 out of 10 does feel about right. It’s good, but it’s certainly not scaling the heights they’re capable of.

  34. 34
    wichitalineman on 23 Jan 2014 #

    “I’m not entirely convinced British music was lapsing into conservatism in 1996-97 as much as is now claimed. I remember it quite differently…”

    It isn’t an entirely revisionist stance. Breathe couldn’t be called conservative (except in relation to its predecessor), but there were A LOT of Top 10 regulars who won’t be bothering Popular from 1996-98 that fit the bill. Bands that had once seemed like fun heading for trad rock tedium (Supergrass, Charlatans), and third-wave Britpop coat-tail acts like Space and Catatonia… Cast had ten Top 20 hits in this period, lest we forget. There were good records around, and a surprisingly high number have made it as Popular entries already, but so much else was thoroughly deflating.

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    Tom on 23 Jan 2014 #

    A play through the NOW albums of 96 is an educational (and often dispiriting) experience. Despite us covering many terrible records the charts were actually functioning pretty efficiently in terms of ‘get the most interesting stuff to #1’: lots of sludge swilling around below.

  36. 36
    Steve Mannion on 23 Jan 2014 #

    My recollection is more…charitable due to the general impact on the charts by music that I’d been hearing ‘out’ at discos and club nights both just before and during University (plus all the trip-hoppy stuff). But then a lot of people tend to be more charitable to dance pap than the pap of other genres esp. anything under the Britpop albatross.

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    AMZ1981 on 23 Jan 2014 #

    The week Breathe topped the charts saw new entries at one and two; still a relative rarity at the time. The record that lost out was What’s Love Got To Do With It by Warren G and Adina Howard and it would have been interesting to see Tom’s rating (for me it’s typical of the lazy hip hop that would dominate the charts over the next few years). Also Breathe prevented the Fugees making it a hat trick and one place behind was Mark Owen making a disastrous tilt at a solo career – disastrous because his solo work has picked up a cult following over the years but even his fans don’t rate his first single and he didn’t quite have the commercial clout to compete in the Christmas market.

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    Steve Mannion on 23 Jan 2014 #

    swanstep@20 How did Kylie’s ‘Breathe’ do in Oz 18 months on from this? It was probably her lowest point here sales-wise.

    Also ‘Breathe’-ing heavily around this time – Blameless (#27 in March ’96) and Def Leppard with ‘Breathe A Sigh’ (#43, Nov ’96). Can’t recall either though.

  39. 39
    iconoclast on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Another collection of noises cleverly deployed to hide the absence of an actual song. This is just about OK in the instrumental bits, but when the singing starts it’s actively unpleasant. While that may have been the point, it’s not at all frightening, either, just tiresome and predictable. Less fun than R****n and J****e. TWO.

  40. 40
    Billy Hicks on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Regarding the single edit, there is indeed one running at a much more precise four minutes – it was on the CD single and my iTunes edit of choice.

    No mention yet for what I think might well be the band’s nadir, the almost completely forgotten ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’ from 2002 which was a one-off between albums and now seemingly disowned by the group, not appearing on their greatest hits and Liam Howlett did a whole interview saying how unhappy he was with it. It’s really pretty dire and comes across as a desperate attempt to do another Firestarter/Breathe (even sampling the Firestarter riff at one point) but coming across as ridiculously forced and irritating.

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    Tom on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Thats the Rohypnol one, right? That is indeed every possible way in which the Prodigy could be shit compressed into one record.

  42. 42
    hardtogethits on 23 Jan 2014 #

    #24. How does an act end up putting non-singles versions of tracks onto a Singles album? I don’t know how often it happens, but I know a couple of examples and the idea that it happens at all is irksome. Has anyone round these parts been in a band that’s released a singles album? How much input can the artist have / is the artist expected to have, etc?

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    Lazarus on 23 Jan 2014 #

    #40 The four minute single edit is easily found if you look on Youtube, which is where I had to go to remind myself of it, having probably not heard it in the interim. This is OK – I think I prefer it to Firestarter and I especially like the drumming – but it was also clearly aimed at people much younger than myself. 6.

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    swanstep on 24 Jan 2014 #

    @SteveMannion, 38. Kylie’s Breathe didn’t chart in NZ but did get to #23 in Aust.. Of course, I don’t know what sort of airplay Bush’s ‘Machinehead’ received down under in ’96. Probably relatively little compared to the US where I was (although, checking now, Bush had albums high in the charts for most of the year in NZ….hmmm). Anyhow, rarely has a band been so aversive to me – all their radio hits obsessively focused on just a few bellowed words, often the title, ‘Swallowed’, ‘Glycerine’… You wanted these items struck from the pop lexicon rather than hear these songs again. Happily, such drastic action wasn’t required after the pop gods realized that if they only gave him Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale would go away forever. Sorted.

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    Doctor Casino on 24 Jan 2014 #

    Ughhh – “Baby’s Got A Temper” was getting some kind of promotional push during a six-week stay in the UK in the summer of 2002. Saw much more than I would have liked of that video. At the time it seemed just impossibly distant from their glory days – hard to grok that 1996 to 2002 is rather less time than between 2002 and now.

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    Cumbrian on 24 Jan 2014 #

    #40: Yeah, I caught up with the single edit last night on Youtube, after failing to find it on Spotify previously. I think I slightly ruined Breathe for myself by over-exposure to the longer cut though. I still found it a bit wearisome by the end. It’s very dense and quite a tiring listen, regardless of whether you get bored of the structure of it, I think.

    Youtube might have to be the go-to avenue for some of the stuff that’s coming up. Thinking about what Tom said about long versions of singles upthread, you’d think that the videos would be more likely cut to the single edits, so they’re likely to be the thing that people heard on the radio when the songs were climbing/descending the charts.

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    Rory on 24 Jan 2014 #

    The opening of “Breathe” is masterful. Within a few seconds we’re in a science-fictional scene of menacing cyborgs: music for Daleks, music for the Terminator, music for Darth Vader as daunting as the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back. A few seconds later, the drums kick in, and The Prodigy invent The Propellerheads, whose expansion on this sound would be used to great effect in the soundtrack of The Matrix. And then comes the slash of the whip, rounding us up like cattle; and underneath it all, that fibrillating bassline, maintaining the tension throughout the track. I can’t fault the soundscape of “Breathe”; it’s one of the most effective musical collages in pop.

    The lyrics maintain that sense of menace, even if I didn’t always understand all of them (it’s only this thread that has let me hear it as “come play my game”, rather than “don’t die boy die”, and “addict insane” never quite registered). I should really say, then, that the delivery of the lyrics is what contributed to the mood of the track for me, although “inhale, exhale” is a fantastic hook. Music for Daleks, indeed.

    Noting the track’s sense of menace is different from saying it was frightening, because it wasn’t; by the mid-90s we knew full well that most pop/rock menace was an act. We’d lived through Alice Cooper, heavy metal, punk and the rest, and even if not all of us loved it all, we were all by now familiar with the tricks. The truly frightening figures of pop, as recent revelations have shown, hid their menace rather than flaunted it. But just as there’s always been an audience for horror movies, none of whom believe that Bruce Campbell’s hand was actually possessed in Evil Dead II, there’s going to be an audience for musical menace.

    As an Australian I always thought of this as the more popular track of The Fat of the Land, the almost-number-one that “Firestarter” wasn’t. But as with the Chemical Brothers, I was late to this party. “Breathe” was everywhere in Australia in 1997, spending 34 weeks in the charts from December ’96, but I didn’t pick up the Prodigy’s albums until early ’99. I remember the Fat of the Land posters competing for my attention and cash in ’97 with a certain Oasis album, and betting wrong (although at least I had Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space to console me); and in 1998 I was too busy travelling and finding work to listen to much new music.

    Never mind: once I did pick up The Fat of the Land I recognised it immediately as one of the key albums of the decade, a relentless rush of thrilling sounds let down only by its closing track, “Fuel My Fire”. If they’d found a better song to follow “Climbatize” (their equivalent of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days”), or even closed with that instead, I’d consider it almost flawless. Even tracks like “Diesel Power” and “Funky Shit” work beautifully in the context of the album, though I doubt either would have done much as singles. And of course the album opens with a track even more thrilling than the two we’ve seen here. I’ve never seen its video (and by the sound of it don’t want to), but “Smack My Bitch Up” is aural crack, as compelling an opening as the pilot of Breaking Bad.

    So for me, The Fat of the Land is as far from a shark-jumping album as it gets. I don’t mind their earlier albums, although they each have stretches I find skippable. “Baby’s Got a Temper” was a massive disappointment, and Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned and Invaders Must Die didn’t do much to recover the situation. With the 2002 single in particular, the Prodigy seemed to be flailing around for relevance, their sound and themes a terrible fit for the post-9/11 mood. But in the late 1990s, they made perfect sense, even to a 30-something power-pop/alt-rock listener as far from urban England as you could get.

    I’ve gone back and forth on what score to give this, struggling with the anchoring effect of Tom’s 7 and a reader average the same, knowing that I can’t honestly say that it’s “difficult to imagine anyone else not enjoying it”, and thinking that I surely shouldn’t repeat my score for their earlier single. But how can I do otherwise? 10.

  48. 48
    Rory on 24 Jan 2014 #

    Minor query re entry title: if this is “Prodigy – Breathe”, why is it “The Prodigy – Firestarter”, when both single covers (and TFOTL) feature the same “The”-free logo? There’s an argument for having the “The” on both, as the band used it on their 1991-95 releases and from 2005 onwards, but from 1996 to 2004 their single and album covers omitted it.

  49. 49
    Ed on 24 Jan 2014 #

    @48 I had thought the “The” was intended to avoid confusion with Prodigy from Mobb Deep – possibly after a word from his lawyers – but the dates are wrong.

    In fact, between 1996 and 2004 is when people would have been most likely to mix them up.

    Were they trying to show they were a “proper band”, like Buzzcocks and Talking Heads? When The Prodigy first appeared, people always used to think it was just Liam. Which, in fact, it probably was.

  50. 50
    Nanaya on 28 Jan 2014 #

    This was MASSIVE with most of the goths I hung with at the time, oddly more so than “Firestarter” (like almost everyone else, it seems, I preferred that). I suspect mainly cos you could play it between Marilyn Manson and Frontline Assembly & it worked just fine for a rivethead-lite dancefloor, though for my money something like “Poison” is far superior. I’m basically with Tom at #11, the decreasing Prodge returns are frustrating and by the time I got the actual Fat Of The Land album, the only thing I was really pleased about (tho I quite liked SMBU) was the presence of an L7 cover, though that was *also* from a disappointing album (prescient?); I listened to it sporadically at best.

    In fairness, contrary to many assumptions, I’ve never really done metal much; grunge & riot grrl were exceptions at least in part because the best offerings did tend to have poppier sensibilities. Pure racket for its own sake was rarely my thing, so that might be why The Prodigy Mk III left me a bit cold when everyone round me was enthusing, I suppose.

  51. 51
    Steve Mannion on 28 Jan 2014 #

    My favourites on The Fat Of The Land were and remain Diesel Power, Mindfields and Climbatise. Mindfields had been slated for a single release of its own to tie in with the release of the album but this was canned for some reason meaning an unusual 12 month gap between the release of two tracks from the same album.

    The three years between the second and third albums seemed like an aeon (the seven between the 3rd and 4th albums mattered less in this context) and I couldn’t stand the delay despite fearing that I’d be a bit disappointed with the results. The oldest track on TFOTL was probably Funky Shit which had been performed live since at least early 1995 (and excitingly televised during Channel 4’s coverage of Glastonbury that year).

    The big surprise was the album going straight in at #1 on the Billboard chart – the long wait had led to a perfect crest-ride with the ‘Electronica’ trend in the US – effectively and curiously another British Invasion of their mainstream. I’m usually not a fan of what gets labelled as ‘EDM’ now (tho as a name it’s hardly worse than ‘IDM’) but I do like that it incorporates a wider pool of nationalities (although maybe not in a way that translates on record). The ironing was that the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers did indeed tend to represent the rockier end of the scene’s spectrum and that was surely the biggest reason for their crossover success in the US.

    Electronica seemed almost entirely comprised of British acts plus Nevada’s Crystal Method and ignored the ADM (Actual Dance Music arf) of US house and techno (plus ça change) but its satellites included probably my favourite attempt at a subgenre name ever ILLBIENT (a largely West Coast scene led by labels such as Asphodel and Liquid Sky) and was swiftly followed by the smaller French invasion led by everyone’s favourite multi-Grammy-winning robots.

  52. 52
    Tom on 28 Jan 2014 #

    Illbient was DJ Spooky, right? (& doubtless some others). He talked a good – or at least interesting – game, but I found the records excruciating. Perhaps I was wrong.

  53. 53
    tm on 29 Jan 2014 #

    Rory @ 47, you forgot Aliens! If that whipcrack sound recalls any single scifi horror image, it’s the swish of the alien’s tail as it attacks. And the acoustic guitar (!) bit in the mid8 surely the perfect soundtrack to the calm before the storm bit in the reactor?

  54. 54
    Rory on 29 Jan 2014 #

    So I did! You’re right, it’s very Alien/s. And I love the acoustic guitar bit too.

  55. 55
    Gareth Parker on 20 May 2021 #

    Love Firestarter and love this as well. 8/10.

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