The Prodigy — Baby’s got a temper. Story behind the single and artwork

George Palladev 18.12.2018

The Prodigy — Baby’s got a temper. Story behind the single and artwork

This single has a fascinating journey: it was loved, defended, renounced, and, finally, accepted. It was supposed to precede the release of the album Always outnumbered, Never outgunned, not the one that came out in 2004, but another one that we will never hear. At least half of it was recorded in 2002, but the clamour around Baby’s got a temper and the vagueness of the band’s status in the early noughties changed its direction. Music had changed a lot since 1997 and The Fat of the Land, and Liam Howlett caught himself thinking that he was writing a second Firestarter in the studio. So, he threw the album out. He shut up the studio with its expensive equipment and switched to a laptop in his bedroom.

Scandals? The Prodigy are no strangers to scandals. Keith Flint sang about Rohypnol—a strong sedative with a notorious reputation: it was often used to spike girls’ drinks with the expectation it would cause a blackout. The combination of ethanol and Rohypnol completely erased the victim’s memories of the ill-fated evening. Because of the constant repetition of the drug name in the chorus, NME called the band total fucking idiots, and Radio 1 banned the song from playing already at the promo stage. “I don’t really care,” said Flint. “If I’m writing a tune, I have to visualise it onstage, not on Radio 1.” Later, the song was heavily edited for radio broadcasts and more sparing reviews either said that the track was similar to Keith Flint’s first experiences in music, or a second Smack my bitch up. (Smack is British slang for heroin).

Keith Flint

Keith Flint: “Have I tried Rohypnol? Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s what the song’s about. It’s a reflection on going out, maybe doing cocaine, then doing downers. Y’know, some people do all manner of downers, and Rohypnol is one of them. If I wanted Rohypnol, I could get it off girlfriends of mine, so I wrote about that, how punk they are. I respect that. A lot of girls I know are more out there than guys. The song is just thoughts summoned up about nights out, getting high, bringing yourself down again. In its original format, it was quite a slow, drugged-out sort of song. Almost smacked out—which I wasn’t doing myself, at all. But that’s where it was coming from.”

It’s not like the release of the track was a rash decision: they presented the single live more than once, shot a video for it in Prague (the script came to Howlett in a dream) and the frontman himself answered confidently:

Liam Howlett: “Baby’s got a temper—it’s a reflection on what goes on in Keith’s mad head and his mad world. The overall feel is like, Keith gets fucked up, goes out with these girls, comes back and writes a song reflecting on his nights out with these girls. he came to me with those lyrics and I’m like, Fucking cool. I like it. Have I tried Rohypnol? Absolutely, yeah. It’s like modern day Valium.”

Such things happen: musicians record an album, invest in an expensive promotion campaign, and a few years later they say that it was a mistake: not the campaign, but the album itself. For a while, Liam couldn’t even find clean words to describe the single released under the band’s name—he just shrugged his shoulders. After an almost three-year tour in support of The Fat of the Land, after successful singles, mega concerts and the title of the phenomenal group, things got difficult: the dancer Leeroy left the band, Flint and Maxim worked on solo projects. Clearly, everyone needed rest. Howlett: “At that time we were hardly communicating with each other—I suppose we didn’t like each other very much really. The record company were on my back to put something out and I was completely hung up on this idea that we had to have a vocalist. But even as I was finishing the track, I had an uneasy feeling with it.”

Liam Howlett: “That record was a mess. It felt like a step backwards, both sonically and musically. I’m glad it came out, because it really gave me a kick up the arse. It made me analyse what I’m about. I think we were starting to take ourselves a little too seriously.

Liam Howlett

All I knew was I had to find the excitement and energy in my music that I used to have, so I set out to start finding myself again. Finding what the fuck I was about and what did I like? What were The Prodigy about and what was I really about? Getting back to the stage of putting the music first. I didn’t want the focus to be on Keith or Maxim or the front bit. I wanted to focus it on the music first and bring that to the attention of people again.”

Liam regretted letting Flint get close to the studio and recalled how in the old days of The Fat of the Land he recorded everything alone while the singers added the finishing touches. “I pulled on Keith (Flint) too much on that. Keith’s lyrics are very introverted and that’s not we’re about. The Prodigy are about fist-in-the-air shit, real simple. But it was important because it showed me exactly where I shouldn’t go. [...] We hit burnout for sure. We’d overworked ourselves. That single was a really good representation of where we were as a band: it was sluggish and had no buzz. The best thing about it was the artwork.”

The cover was created by British designer Jimmy Turrell, now working with Beck, M.I.A., The Guardian, The New York Times and others. The designers from his agency SafePlace were tasked with creating artwork for the release that would be loud, bright, and aggressive—that is, that would reflect the very music of The Prodigy. The idea of the design came after Jimmy heard a fragment of a track sampling the laughter of a policeman doll. It was probably one of the demo versions of the track. The designer wanted something sinister and evil, so the doll fit perfectly. The cover was made as a collage; the logo was photocopied to give it a shabby look. The name of the single was adding manually, using the typefaces Platelet and Citizen, then decorated with acetate fabric. The doll’s picture is cut from a photo taken specially for the single. To enhance the effect, coarse matte paper was used for the standard Digipak edition.

By the way, in several moment of Flashbacks of a Fool, released in 2008, you can see the doll from the cover—watch the video.