Review Summary: If I was in World War II they'd call me Spitfire
There is certain protocol when it comes time to follow up a successful album, especially when said album is widely regarded as one of the greatest ‘dance’ albums ever released. Normal procedure in said situation would be as follows; gather around you all the forces and creative team that were with you in the last round, feel free to ‘experiment’ with what’s tried and true but don’t deviate too much from the blueprint you set earlier, and above all, while it’s alright to put out an album that isn’t as great as the last one make sure it’s an album that all your fans would want to proudly display in their collection. But then again this is The Prodigy, and rules and protocol are for other people. But the question remains, how do you follow up one of the most commercially profitable and critically acclaimed albums of all time? Well, this is what Liam Howlett did; toured the world extensively for 2 years, released a mix cd, released a sub par remix of one of his fellow band members side projects, then ditched said band members and proclaimed that the following album was to be a ‘personal project’ to the dismay of all those who were waiting patiently, then finally released said album, 7 years after his previous ground breaking effort. Well, I guess somebody had to teach everyone else how to do it properly.
Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
is an interesting addition to the world of The Prodigy. All the trademark gimmicks are there, but everything just feels a little different somehow. Admittedly, the departure of the two hype men, Keith and Maxim, makes for an obvious difference in the sound, but they’re only a small factor of the big equation, and the other parts more than make up the sum needed to sustain an interest in the band. The problem is this: The Prodigy, or more to the point Liam, didn’t make The Fat Of The Land
part 2, and that’s where the argument against this album will always lie. But how could one top that behemoth of an album without coming off as either a mere shell of it, or, make the same album and being accused of showing a lack of progression? With the long awaited follow up Liam took the smart route; he acknowledged the presence of his past glories and then went for something completely different.
What Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
succeeds in becoming is an acid infused breakbeat descent into electro funk territory, a style never before shown the light of day from anyone working under the moniker of The Prodigy. It’s clear from the offset that this is a new Prodigy, a new arsenal of weapons and sounds have been bought in to combat the forces of the still, at the time, relatively new millennium. ‘Spitfire’ kicks things off with no pretension, and no warm up. Emerging in a sea of noise and cut up Middle Eastern flutes a mid tempo beat marches out, bringing with it Juliette Lewis, who does a more than admirable job of filling Keith’s shoes with an abrasive looped verse than escalates and heightens along with the sweeping synth lines that spread themselves all over the track. Straight off of this comes the refreshing ‘Girls’, a tantalizing electro house crossover, nicely dipped in acid reverb. Guests The Magnificent Ping Pong Bitches add to the sensual nature of the song, and their appearance is a welcome addition compared to the grunge like qualities of Lewis. The next few songs follow suit in an acceptable fashion. ‘Memphis Belle’ with it’s subtle nature sees Liam experimenting with base and minimalism, ‘Get Up Get Off’ brings us a typical tongue twisting spot from Twista, providing the perfect backdrop for chopped up guitars and 808 induced funkiness. Juliette Lewis drops by for another spot, adding vocals to the only true “song” of the album, ‘Hotride’. A relatively simple song in its approach, a swirling string line and a massive drum beat sends this song through its paces, as Lewis brings about images of kitsch punk rebellion; and Kool Keith (he of the Smack My Bitch fame) pops up on ‘Wake Up Call’, which only serves to elaborate on the template already seen on Twista’s guest track.
‘Action Radar’ is the least inspired of all the tracks on offer, a minor acid pop song that fails to engage simply because the song goes nowhere at all, and accomplishes nothing on it’s way. Luckily Liam saves the album’s best cuts for after, though completely eliminating ‘Radar’ from the album would’ve also served the same purpose. Whizzing and screaming electronic pulses are the main focus on offer with ‘Medusa’s Path’, a song that again brings Middle Eastern influences into the scene. The bass remains at a ear shuddering maximum on this one, the result of which is an almost crumbling state for the already spliced pipe samples. ‘Phoenix’ remains the unsung hero on this album, with its retro amnesia quality/bollywood tinged/ acid hop beat, it stands as one of the more truly original songs on display. ‘You’ll Be Under My Wheels’ is all Prodigy, with its escalating beats, guitar loops and chopped samples, and ‘The Way It Is’ sees Liam piling mountains of bass onto Michael Jackson’s classic ‘Thriller’, luckily a sensual female voice fills in for Vincent Price on this one. Sadly however, the album ends on a rather low note. Calling in the poster boys of sibling rivalry, the Gallagher boys, Liam tries to head into a more Chemical Brothers mind space, with his booming bass and layers of electronic static and sirens, and tipping it all off with an almost britrock vibe.
Long gone are the days of “Smack My Bitch Up” and “Firestarter”, what we have here is an entirely different beast. Never too self indulgent, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
is a smart, strong and enjoyable album. With a number of guest appearances from the world of rock and rap, this is an album that is loud, fast and dirty. And really, that’s just like it should be.