At the close of Worlds on Fire, the new live album from techno veterans the Prodigy, front man Maxim tells a screaming crowd that “This is the f***ing best night of our f***ing lives tonight!” Now, you would think that the Prodigy have had their fair share of great nights. Ever since 1992’s Experience, the group’s been making serious waves in the techno world, and 1997’s The Fat of the Land made them into worldwide stars. But after a full hour of Maxim’s and fellow front man Keef Flint’s screaming the Prodigy’s old hits and older classics to a loving, effusive crowd, it’s not hard to believe that July 24, 2010, was one of the best nights of their life. The crowd seems to believe it, anyway. They roar in appreciation, affirming wordlessly that for them, too, it’s been a trip they’ll never forget.
The album was recorded at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes, England, during the Prodigy’s music festival, the Warrior’s Dance Festival. The event features other hardcore punk and techno groups like Gallows and Lethal Bizzle, so the Prodigy have home-court advantage, in a sense. Even if the crowd hadn’t come to see the group’s particular brand of uptempo, punk-inflected rave music, it would have that general sort of thing in mind, and what hardcore techno fan could resist the gritty call of tracks like “Their Law” and “Everybody in the Place”? Still, the Prodigy are known for their live experience, and Maxim and Flint, backed by the group’s resident DJ mastermind Liam Howett, spares not one iota of composure in making the hour-long performance as high-octane as possible, yelling, cursing and whooping it up like a pair of demonic, politically inchoate Zach de la Rochas.
The playlist for the night is a comprehensive round-up of the Prodigy’s best cuts, starting with “Breathe”, from their 1997 breakthrough, and ending with “Out of Space”, one of the highlights of their 1992 debut. The track selection is an indicator of how far the band has come and where they are now; like so many seminal acts, the Prodigy get the biggest reactions for their classics. With no selections from Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned or The Dirtchamber Sessions, Vol. 1 (both albums were made without the contributions of Flint or Maxim), Worlds On Fire opens with a string of tracks from the group’s most recent effort, Invaders Must Die, only to slide predictably into favorites from their ’90s albums.
It’s an exhausting listen, because the energy only increases as the set continues. Flint and Maxim sound rawest toward the end, especially on “Their Law”, when they muster every bit of the Prodigy’s anti-establishment cred to squawk, growl and yelp at their law-making enemies. “Voodoo People” is another climactic track, the vocalists’ frantic interjections improving, if anything, on the original tribal rave beat. To be in the crowd on that night surely would have been a sweaty and exhilarating ordeal — of course, a CD is a considerably less immersive experience. And if there’s one problem with Worlds On Fire, it’s that when you check out, even for a moment, all of Flint and Maxim’s wild hootings begin to sound downright goofy. Without the almost clinical precision of the studio, the Prodigy’s ridiculous posturing is magnified into a caricature.
For hardcore Prodigy fans, none of this will prove an issue. Others, however, may find the band’s zealousness hard to understand. It may be the best night of your life, Maxim, but for the listeners at home, the enthusiasm is a bit less catching.