The long-awaited third Prodigy album, The Fat of the Land, was released in 1997 just as the band headlined the Glastonbury festival on its opening night. Like its predecessors, the album represented a milestone in the development of both the band and the wider mainstream dance scene. Featuring simplified melodies, sparser sampling, and more sneering, punk-like vocals (supplied by a shockingly madeover Flint), the album nevertheless retained the bone-jarring breaks and buzzsaw synths so idiomatic of the band. The album cemented the band’s position as one of the most internationally successful acts in the dance genre, entering the British and American charts at number one.
The Prodigy were getting considerable airplay on rock stations with their controversial track “Smack My Bitch Up” — and also a negative backlash for the song. Time-Warner, Prodigy’s parent company, was feeling the heat from the National Organization for Women (NOW) over the track. Although the song’s lyrics are few but repetitive (in their entirety, the lyrics are “Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up”), NOW stated that the lyrics are a “…dangerous and offensive message advocating violence against women.” Howlett responded to the attacks by claiming that the song’s lyrics are being misinterpreted: (the song means) “…doing anything intensely, like being on stage – going for extreme manic energy.” The band did not write the lyric, but rather sampled it from the classic Ultramagnetic MCs’ track “Give The Drummer Some” which also appears on the Dirtchamber Sessions (they had also sampled another Ultramagnetic MCs song “Critical Beatdown” on their earlier “Out of Space” single).There are also those who believe that the lyrics are in reference to administering heroin (smack) to another person. Several radio stations defended the song, yet only played the track at night. The music video (directed by Jonas Åkerlund) featured a first-person point of view of someone going clubbing, indulging in large amounts of drugs and alcohol, getting into fist fights with men, abusing women and picking up a lap dancer and having sex with her as well, all of which is depicted explicitly. At the end of the video the camera pans over to a mirror, revealing the subject to be a woman. MTV only aired the video between 1 and 5 a.m. The director got the inspiration for the contents of the video after a night of drinking and partying in Copenhagen.
During a performance at the Reading Festival (29 August 1998) The Prodigy and the Beastie Boys had an onstage disagreement over the track – with the Beastie Boys requesting the song should be pulled from their set as it could be considered offensive to those who had suffered domestic abuse.Choosing to ignore the Beastie Boys plea, Maxim introduced “Smack My Bitch Up” with the declaration “They didn’t want us to play this fucking tune. But the way things go, I do what the fuck I want“. The incident has since become part of festival folklore, and was voted one of the greatest ever live moments by the now defunct Select Magazine.
Wal-Mart and Kmart later announced they would pull The Fat of the Land off their shelves. Despite the fact that the LP had resided on their store shelves for over 20 weeks, and the fact that they had sold 150,000 copies of the album in total, the two stores found the marketing campaign for the new single release offensive.
In mid-2002, the complete, unedited video was aired on MTV2 as part of a special countdown showing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. This countdown was only shown late at night because of the graphic imagery of “Smack My Bitch Up” and several other videos on the countdown. This video in particular was deemed the “Most Controversial Video” by MTV and showed at the #1 spot on the countdown.
1999 saw the release of The Prodigy’s The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One, a DJ mix album by Howlett, produced as an official record of a successful guest appearance on the British Radio 1. In June of this year when the band had questionably reached their commercial peak they parted company with guitarist Gizz Butt .
In 2002, after a break from touring and recording, the single “Baby’s Got a Temper” was released to critical disappointment. The song was written by Keith Flint’s sideband, Flint, and also featured Jim Davies. Howlett produced it. Once again, the band courted controversy by including references to the so-called “date rape” drug Rohypnol in the song lyrics, although it is unclear whether or not the band “glorifies” or presents the drug in a negative light. In the same year, however, Q magazine named The Prodigy as one of the “50 Bands To See Before You Die”.
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