Seven years – a lifetime in dance music, and the time that has elapsed since the Prodigy’s all-conquering ‘Fat Of The Land’ album. In fact, it seemed that the day would never come when a sequel would appear, especially given the relative lack of invention on interim single ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’. Liam Howlett took stock after that, ditched an album’s worth of material and went back to re-boot.
As a format, ‘Always Outnumbered…’ is very similar to the last record, with the guests difficult to identify, eclipsed by the effects studio and the size and sound of the big beats. In the case of Liam Gallagher this is probably a good thing as Shoot Down is very much like his brother’s collaborations with the Chemical Brothers. Thankfully this comes at the end, by which time you’ll be under the Prodigy spell once again.
The sledgehammer beats of ‘Spitfire’ will be familiar, but not the old skool electro-lite opening to ‘Girls’, a fantastic track with great samples and riffery. ‘Hotride’ is also a good ‘un, Juliette Lewis giving a strange detachment to her voice as Howlett busies himself with frantic beats once more. Kool Keith raps about being back on tour on ‘Wake Up Call’, not a pleasant room service number but more the fire alarm that won’t stop going off at night!
Once again there are shades of Middle Eastern melody, heard to best effect in the start of ‘Medusa’s Path’ where Howlett conjures an extraordinary sound picture. ‘You’ll Be Under My Wheels’ is ironically doing big bucks as a car advert but is a great sonic track, and ‘The Way It Is’ splices Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ bass line into a hip-hop/disco extravaganza.
Proof, then, that Howlett still has the invention and drive to make some very good music on what is essentially a solo album. The absence of Keith Flint is felt, but maybe it was time to leave those sounds in the 1990s where they seemed most relevant. Here it seems that the crucial element of unpredictability remains, if not burning as brightly as it used to. Howlett’s settled down in his life, but as long as his music doesn’t do the same the Prodigy will still be one of today’s most relevant dance acts.
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