'It was underneath a wig shop in Brick Lane," says Martin Fry, reminiscing about the insalubrious location of Sarm East studios where, in 1982, ABC recorded the luxuriant Lexicon of Love, one of the greatest pop albums ever.
From the shadows of his East End cellar, he tells us, he watched as his New Romantic peers lived the high life. "Duran Duran had a yacht ... Spandau Ballet had a private plane ..." Some wag finishes his sentence for him, to mass cheers: "And you had a gold suit!" Martin's comeback is just as sharp: "That's why I had a gold suit ..."
For a long time, it looked as if Martin Fry would never live the gold lamé down, eternally imprisoned by his early-Eighties image. Tonight, however, he's embracing it. Watching a dinner-jacketed Fry from a gilded box in the Royal Albert Hall, I feel I'm merely a pearl-handled pistol and a pair of opera glasses away from stepping inside an ABC video, or perhaps a scene from Man Trap (the full-length Cold War thriller on which Fry impressively blew a chunk of ABC's budget).
For this one-off staging of ABC's masterpiece, Fry is backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra on top of his 11-piece band, and warms up the vocal cords with some non-Lexicon hits. He's reunited many of the key dramatis personae, including original drummer David Palmer, and Art of Noise's Anne Dudley as conductor.
Following the interval, Trevor Horn – the production genius behind the album – introduces the main event. After graciously handling a "Video Killed the Radio Star" heckle, Horn tells us Fry had written "the best set of lyrics I've ever had to work with".
He's not kidding. The recently dumped Martin wrote every song on that album about one specific girl and, with sharp teeth and eyes of ice, deconstructed the language of love. It's an astonishingly honest record: witness, for example, "I stuck the marriage proposal in the waste disposal ..." ("4 Ever 2 Gether") or "Skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers/You'll be disappointed, and I'll lose a friend..." (the eternally misunderstood "All of My Heart").
The white spider curtain drops on the Prodigy's Invaders Must Die tour – the greatest pest control slogan Tommy Saxondale never used – and Maxim Reality bellows the potty-mouthed geographical query "Where the ... is Cardiff?" My reply of "Roughly 51 degrees north and 3 degrees west, where the estuary of the River Taff meets the Bristol Channel", is drowned out by the roars of the very strange cross-section of humanity that this band manages to unite.
Everyone's in the CIA tonight, from goth to chav. The Prodigy, you see, are the techno-punk vortex that sucks them all in. Uniquely, they allow alternative types to get uncouth and lairy for a couple of hours, and also allow very straight types to take a walk on the wild side. If you can nail that crossover, you're minted for life. Just ask Richard O'Brien.
Directly before stage time, the DJ plays "Unbelievable" by EMF from 1990, the year the Prodigy formed – shortly before their novelty single "Charly" charted, and long before Keith Flint became a household name and Liam Howlett married his dendrophobic All Saint. It's a sobering realisation that they've been doing this for longer than some of their audience have been alive, and in that time, not a lot has changed.
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If Invaders Must Die is underwhelming on record, then so is every Prodigy album with the exception of Music for the Jilted Generation, but one thing that hasn't diminished is their power in the flesh as an old skool rave machine. The musical formula is the same for every song: one big booming depth charge at the start of each bar, then the snares come skittering after it like tracer fire, while Keith and Maxim run around in white vests trading snarls and shouts about how exciting it all is.
It's alternately very samey and quite thrilling, the IMD material punctuating what is essentially a greatest hits show ("Firestarter", "Breathe", "Smack My Bitch Up" and the berserk rave-reggae finale of "Out of Space"), with "No Good" the set's helium handbag high spot. Only "Charly" and "Baby's Got a Temper" are absent (the band having presumably realised that a song with the chorus "We love Rohypnol" was a little, well, desperate).
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