Monday, March 16, 2009
Updated: March 17, 1:10 PM ET
The Prodigy still has its time and place
By Paul Shirley
Special to ESPN.com
I was on the Barcelona metro listening to The Prodigy's new album and trying to think of how I could describe the band's music. I wasn't thinking too hard because I was playing poker on my phone at the same time, which is only important because my possession of a cellular phone is crucial to what happened next.
I looked up to find an oddly dressed woman between 17 and 22 standing over me. She was motioning for me to take out my headphones, which I found annoying because I had just gotten to my favorite song from "Invaders Must Die," called "Stand Up" -- an instrumental track that sounds like the best song Oasis never made.
When I complied with her request, the girl said something in Spanish. If I had a gift for learning languages, I would have understood; I've been in Spain for 18 of the past 24 months of my life. (With that much time in Spain, I shouldn't need a gift. A loan for learning languages would probably do. A bad loan, from one of those Check Into Cash joints.)
Eventually, I deciphered that she wanted to use my phone to call her ninya's school which, in this case, probably didn't mean "daughter" like I first thought, and probably did mean "friend." I froze, not knowing what to do. On one hand, I didn't want to be impolite. On the other: Were this girl and her friend planning to scamper out the door at the next stop, my Nokia in hand? My pathetic Midwesterness won out and I handed over my phone. Without a thank you, she settled into the seat next to me, staring at it like a monkey with a transistor radio. She decided that it would be easier to send a text. I knew that to be untrue because -- my phone being "my phone" -- it is set up in English. And the girl next to me was no linguist. But I let her hammer away, all the while wondering if she was planting a virus on the device that would allow her Canarian friends to track me home and steal the good wine I had bought the night before.
She quickly tired of trying to figure out my phone and handed it back to me. She said thanks under her breath and returned to her friend. I shared a raised eyebrow with the lady across the subway car before she went back to reading the 1,500-page tome she was lugging around and I went back to listening to The Prodigy.
It was then that I realized that the new Prodigy album -- and, really, any of the last three Prodigy albums -- is perfect if the feeling you want to replicate is that of being on a subway system where anything could happen at any time. When I hear Prodigy music, it's easy to imagine myself riding the London metro and being accosted by 15 English youths in search of a heroin fix. Or riding the Barcelona subway and being accosted by one Spanish youth in search of a cellular phone fix. The commonality being the unpredictability involved.
"Invaders Must Die" probably isn't The Prodigy's best effort. But, probably because I'm a fan of the band, I like it. As with their previous record, 2004's "Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned," it isn't music to be played in a dark room while contemplating the deeper meaning of the lyrics. Nor is it music to be played at a cocktail party. The songs on "Invaders Must Die" are hyperactive and chaotic. They make you want to leave the house, alter your consciousness, and kick in the window of the downtown Macy's. Which is exactly what I want out of a Prodigy album.
One might wonder why I would take the time to write about The Prodigy. As far as most music fans know, their day came and went with 1997's "The Fat of the Land," its mainstreamy hit "Firestarter," and the best music video ever made, for that album's "Smack My Bitch Up."
But that was only in America. The Prodigy had been a huge success prior to "The Fat of the Land." They'd burst onto the London club scene in the early 1990s, twisting music genres to the delight of teenagers across Europe.
I discovered them when most of the United States did. Their style -- which, on that album, I would describe as an aggressive mix of electronica, dance, rap, rock and industrial -- was like nothing I had heard before. Something clicked. Their success came at a time when I was starting to understand that "hard" music wasn't as scary as I had previously thought, and that I had more in common with the guys singing/programming/playing this style of music than I realized.
After "The Fat of the Land" made it through approximately 150 spins in my college dorm room, I found the band's second album, "Music for the Jilted Generation," in a used bin. I liked it, too, even though the style is more laid-back and approaches being a standard electronica CD.
And then I was left to wait. It would be seven years before The Prodigy released another album. Their absence did nothing to diminish their popularity in Europe; I've gathered that their live shows are legendary, so much so that I will be disappointed if I don't get to see them in concert before I die. After "Always Outnumbered," they waited another 4½ years.
In my mind, they didn't disappoint. But remember that my mind has a soft spot for big, dumb music. I'm sure many a Bon Iver fan will cringe at the lyrics from the song "World's On Fire":
|Keith Flint and The Prodigy have built a strong reputation for their live shows.|
Your world's on fire, your world's on fire ... and it's too close to the wire.
But if you're listening to The Prodigy for the songwriting, we need to discuss your decision-making skills.
All music has its time and place. The Prodigy and their latest record are no different. For "Invaders Must Die," that time and place is 8:45 on a Friday night, when a friend is dragging his heels when you're trying to get him to go out. The album will help him remember that we only get to live once, so we might as well enjoy it. If it helps, think of The Prodigy as aural Red Bull.
Music is always about timing and placement. Metallica is not road trip music. Boston is. The Prodigy is not Sunday morning newspaper-reading music. Pete Yorn is.
"Invaders Must Die" is not a perfect album for every time and place, but it is the perfect album for the right time and place. I'm glad the band is still releasing albums so I can discover what that time and place is, even if, to do so, I have to deal with an unbalanced Spanish girl and the fear that I'm about to have my phone stolen.
Your world's on fire, your world's on fire ... and it's about to expire ... and it's about to expire.
What should be reviewed next?
I'd like to make reading this column as much like listening to the radio as possible. As of now, if listening to the radio is 100 and reading in general is zero, I've accomplished a four. With my next gimmick, I'm hoping to push that number to five. Or maybe even to 5½.
I'm taking requests. One request, that is. I'll buy and review whatever album you, dear reader, would like. Here's what I need:
1. Click here to send me an e-mail with your request (or, if you're not into direct links, e-mail me at email@example.com). Feel free to include reasons the album you're requesting should be reviewed, personal stories to convince me, and bribes.
2. Next week, I or, more accurately, the wizards at ESPN.com, will fashion a poll. Everyone will have a chance to vote on which album gets reviewed.
3. As your personal DJ/author, I will listen to the album in question. Subsequently, I will spew forth several hundred words about that album, and in so doing most likely will annoy most of my "listener"/readership.
It's going to be great.
In case you missed the little clicky-spot, it's here again. In case you missed the part about the bribes, it's here: (I like McDonald's gift certificates.) *
Thanks for reading.
* -- Anti-payola disclaimer. I'm joking about the bribes. And I only like McDonald's in Europe, where the lack of Wheat Chex catches up with me and I get desperate. I'm back in the U.S., so McDonald's gift certificates will no longer do me any good.
Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. He can be found at myspace.com/paulshirley and at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book "Can I Keep My Jersey?" -- which is now available in paperback -- can be found here. With his brother, he co-hosts an online radio show, "Off Topic with Matt and Paul Shirley."