The Prodigy: How we plan to destroy ourselves

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Would-be teenage rock stars, idly strumming guitars in bedrooms across the land, might dream of becoming bigger stars than Oasis, but The Prodigy are so afraid of overtaking the boys from Manchester that they plan to self-destruct.

The band are currently at the top of the album charts around the world, but band-member Liam Howlett said yesterday he had deliberately set out to destroy their popularity with their new single, the provocatively titled Smack My Bitch Up and a quote from Herman Goering on the album sleeve.

The album, The Fat of the Land, has hit number one in 22 countries - including the US where it knocked the ubiquitous Spice Girls off the top - and is widely tipped to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, dubbed the Booker of the music industry. Indeed, the Essex band are at the cutting edge of the wave of British electronic music that is being eagerly hoovered up by American youngsters.

Keith Flint, the frontman, who sports a spiky fluorescent green hairdo, is a teenage favourite because his agressive stage persona means he is "hated by all parents". Howlett, the musician behind the band's furious sound, admitted the single would be "self-destructive". But said he wanted to discourage casual fans because he was terrified that The Prodigy would overtake Oasis in the popularity stakes.

"My dad likes Oasis. We have to be something that people dislike," he told Select magazine yesterday.

"I'm not doing another album. There isn't another Prodigy album. I went through so much pressure. I don't want to go through that again."

In the same article, Flint said he was worried about his colleague's reluctance to revel in the limelight.

"If he turned round and said, `There's no more Prodigy, there's no more touring', that would be scary, because what am I going to do then?" he said.

"It's not like I'll go and get another job."

Despite the inevitable controversy which will follow Smack My Bitch Up, Howlett insisted it did not advocate beating up women.

"It's an answer to the people who thought that Firestarter [the band's first British No 1] was about starting fires. They've got to get the irony in the songs," he said.

The Goering quote ("Would you rather have butter than guns?") was "obviously not a Nazi thing," he said, because the Prodigy has two black members, Maxim and Leeroy.

Those of a cynical disposition would view these remarks as attempt to create publicity and stir up demand for the "last ever" album.

But a spokesman for the Prodigy's record label, Beggars Banquet, said: "If you knew Liam you would know that's not the case.

"He's always been anxious to the point of paranoia about the band being overexposed.'

Kate Watson-Smyth

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