Sunday 29 June 1997
Prodigy: The Fat Of The Land (XL, CD/LP/tape). Have Scary Prodigy, Scarier Prodigy, Tall Prodigy, and Prodigy Who Actually Makes the Records missed their moment? It's been a year since "Firestarter" and seven months since "Breathe", so the Essex boys' revolutionary formula is now more than familiar: head-spinning beats, headbanging guitars, electronic squelches that skid from speaker to speaker, and enough sounds to make 1994's Mercury- nominated Music For the Jilted Generation seem malnourished. Prodigy (the "the" seems to have been dropped) may have played their best cards too early in the game. Certainly, nothing on Fat of the Land matches the classic "Breathe"; and "Serial Thriller" is simply "Firestarter" Part II, with Keith Flint shouting, "Youth corrupter" instead of "Twisted firestarter!" And when Maxim spends much of "Mindfields" insisting that "this is dangerous!", you wonder whether Prodigy's lyrical arm will ever stretch further than telling us what a frightening bunch they are. Take the regrettably titled "Smack My Bitch Up" into consideration, and the guest vocals of Crispian from Kula Shaker and Saffron from Repubblica, and The Fat of the Land doesn't quite add up to the work of unassailable genius we'd hoped for. But I'm speaking relatively. The singles are still overwhelming, the brilliant "Climbatise" is an epic mid-air collision of bongos, cheesey organ chords and foghorn saxophones, and, on a cover of L7's "Fuel My Fire", Flint has lots of fun completing his metamorphosis into a Stars in Their Eyes Johnny Rotten. The slight disap- pointment brought on by the feeling that you know the album before you hear it gives way to the urge to jump around the room pretending you've had your tongue pierced. Nicholas Barber
Lowell Liebermann: Piano Concertos. Stephen Hough/ BBC Scottish SO/Liebermann (Hyperion, CD). Stephen Hough has made a triumphant career out of lesser- known romantic piano repertory, and when his recording of the Hummel Concertos took the Gramophone award for overall best release of 1996, Hyperion moved fast to get him back in the studio for this rush-released disc - which sounds to me like yet another winner in a comparable genre. Lowell Liebermann belongs to the thirtysomething generation of American composers whose work doesn't travel much to Europe but turns heads when it does. Last year his opera The Picture of Dorian Gray premiered at Monte Carlo; and its distinctive brand of radical conservatism - tonal, tuneful to the point of outrage - is mirrored in the two concertos here. The first is hard-edged, with an almost modern-Russian tartness, clipped skeletal textures, and what Hough's illuminating sleeve note calls a "lanky, adolescent athleticism". Like Ravel, it glitters, the emotion more implied than unconditionally upfront. No 2 is more upholstered - old Russian rather than new - and with a grandeur that sounds oddly like Vaughan Williams being epic-visionary. But it's the Vaughan Williams of Sinfonia Antartica not Lark Ascending, blown by chill winds. And although the romanticism of the writing is whole-hearted, it's too elegantly crafted to be self-indulgent. Ears attuned to coruscating novelty will no doubt close against it; but for me it's fascinating, bold and fresh - a visit to the past without the smell of the museum. It's a gift for Hough, whose playing is stylish and assured. The BBC Scottish, under the composer's baton, offer clean, strong sound. And with some wickedly sophisticated solo items from Liebermann's Album for the Young as a filler-epilogue, it makes one of the most oddly attractive issues of the year so far. If it does for Liebermann what the last disc did for Hummel, we'll be hearing more of him in due course. Michael White
Mel Torme : That's All (Sony CD). Mid-60s mix of Torme's divine crooning and some decidely cheesy backings from an orchestra with strings arranged by Robert Mersey. A set of peerless ballads includes the pipe and the slippers anthem to end them all, "The Folks Who Live On The Hill". Phil Johnson
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