It’s 2002 and I am 14 and I am on a New Jersey Transit train headed back to the city after being dragged to the country for the weekend by my parents and I’m at the part of the journey where the train goes over a really pretty section—a tiny rail bridge over a valley so that it feels like you and the train are literally floating through the air—and the synths rise in my headphones like they’re the sun on LSD (wooooooo wooooo woooooo wooooo) and then the high notes start and then the pitched up “I’ll take your brain to another dimension,” and then the beat drops and I feel so free. Almost psychotically happy.
The song, Out of Space, on Prodigy’s first album, Experience, always makes me feel this way. The entire album does. It is a psychotically happy album. It’s an album filled with tracks that exude joy for the disaffected kids who listened to the group’s songs—the early 90’s British ravers on enough ecstasy to envision a loving and kind world, and the ones like me who had never raved but who knew there must be something brighter beyond New Jersey Transit and teenage angst; that that floating-above-the-earth feeling was real, attainable, if only temporarily.
Experience stood out for me in my usual rotation of nü metal and other hard music. Everything else I listened to as a teen told me that yes, my problems were real, yes, life did suck. But they also told me there was nothing I could do about it except be angry. Experience told me that yes the world was bad, but also that it could get better, almost infinitely better. That the limit to happiness and freedom was one’s imagination. Unlike so much teenage angst music, it did not only validate my feelings, it prodded me to think bigger, to have new feelings I didn’t even know I was capable of having.