samedi, août 21, 2004

Album: The Prodigy

The Prodigy : Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, XL

By Andy Gill

20 August 2004

The Beta Band aside, it's not often that a group takes to slagging off their own work in public - but that's exactly what Liam Howlett has been doing, taking a pop at The Prodigy's 2002 single "Baby's Got a Temper" for being complacent and below their usual standard. It did, however, prompt him to a sudden scorched-earth reaction to the material he'd been working on for the band's follow-up to The Fat of the Land, which was unceremoniously dumped. Locking up his studio, Howlett took to writing a whole set of replacement tracks on his laptop, re-focusing on the group's core business of mighty beats and scrambled samples.

The result is Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, in effect a Howlett solo album, given the absence of both Keith Flint and Maxim. Instead, Howlett has drawn on the vocal contributions of various friends, some actual singers (Liam Gallagher, Paul Jackson from Dirt Candy), some rappers (Kool Keith, Twista, Princess Superstar) and some just celebs with an affection for rock'n'roll (Juliette Lewis). Not that any of them is allowed to impose themselves too forcefully: most are employed merely as samples, their voices mangled almost beyond recognition in Howlett's laptop laboratory.

For a while, it's a disappointing experience, with most of the early tracks falling short of The Prodigy's exacting standards. The opener, "Spitfire", has massive big-beat drums, a single huge fuzz-chord and a few swirls of Middle Eastern-sounding synth. It's no more than ordinary, as are "Girls" (stuttering electro-hip-hop), "Memphis Bells" (lumbering techno-funk) and "Get Up Get Off" (more electro-hip-hop).

Only with "Hot Ride" do things start to heat up. A rumbling chunk of psychedelic rock, over which Juliette Lewis extemporises lines from "Up, Up and Away", it has a kind of restless determination that the previous tracks lack. "Wake Up Call" is equally fractious, a scrambled sample-scape with a rap fragment from Kool Keith of Ultramagnetic MCs, who furnished the offending lines to "Smack My Bitch Up" - a track whose tempo and dynamic "Wake Up Call" seeks to recreate.

There's a very Eighties feel about some of the album - not just in the industrious electropop of "Action Radar", which recalls the early Human League, but most brazenly in "The Way It Is", which is built on the chopped-up riff to Michael Jackson's "Thriller", recast as a dirty electro-funk groove. That's not the most blatant appropriation, though: that dubious honour goes to "Phoenix", which is a mix assault on Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz". In its piratical swagger, it's indicative of the old-skool, underground attitude that Howlett is trying to regain with Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. But whether there are any tracks here with the compulsive individual character of "Poison" or "Firestarter" is debatable.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd