Went to Amoeba yesterday for the first time in more than a year and picked up some new CDs.
-The Charlatans : Tellin’ Stories.
-David Bowie : Jump They Say (single).
-David Bowie : Little Wonder (ltd edition single).
-The Prodigy : Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.
Music probably couldn’t have changed more in the seven years it’s been since The Prodigy released The Fat Of The Land to #1 on the charts (in the same week OK Computerdebuted). The electronica take-over my machine-obsessed sixteen-year-old self was so excited about never got any further than a shitload of similarly-styled film soundtracks and an anemic late-night MTV programming block called Amp. Hip-hop bursted forth from the Earth, slapped the shit out of the ravers and stole all the girls, and that was pretty much the end of that.
We’ve had a few noticeably different sorts of rock phase in and out, particularly Nu-Metal and Emo and now Retro-Rock, or whatever the fuck it’s called. Frankly, I find myself more and more disgusted with each genre-distinction I invoke, but I also find myself lacking the talent to talk about this stuff in any other way, so whatever. Anyway, during this time, soldiers of the electronica non-revolution like Underworld, the Chemical Brothers and Orbital all continued to release great records (well, maybe not Orbital— RIP). Naturally, there’s been a popular aberration here and there, like Moby, Bjork, and (thank you, God) Fischerspooner’s mining and repackaging of electro for the People. Conspicuously absent all this time was The Prodigy.
Unquestionably the loudest and grandest of all electronica acts (although I think Chemical Bros. actually have more hit singles), The Prodigy all but vanished from the spotlight for years at a time, reemerging with only small morsels of activity such as the rerelease of the first album, Experience. However, The Dirtchamber Sessions vol 1was also unleashed upon us during this extended period of nothingness, and it is widely considered to be one of few gems to be found in the limitless dark depths of wankerific DJ mix compilations. If you’re a fan of old school rap and hip-hop, punk, techno, funk, rock and pop, then you should seek out Dirtchamber. It makes excellent party music.
Despite the fierce brilliance of The Dirtchamber Sessions, the most memorable artifact of the Prodigy’s last seven years is probably the spectacularly awful one-off single,Baby’s Got A Temper. The song was just so irretrievably bad, not even its creator— Prodigy mastermind Liam Howlett— could stand it. The reaction to the song seems to have been so negative that it more than anything else expedited the completion of the mythical fourth Prodigy album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.
As I said, music probably couldn’t have changed more, and the Prodigy know it. We live in a glorious time where a thriving community exists to celebrate virtually any form of dance music (except techno in Los Angeles) and AONO is a meticulously crafted sonic assault vehicle designed to appeal to listeners in all of them. Bizarrely, Howlett achieves this without entirely sucking. Lip-service is often paid to various artists for mashing-up genres, but it’s actually true in Prodigy’s case. Seamlessly blending breakbeat, punk, indie, electro, hip hop and techno, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned would sound at home in any number of club settings, including the puzzingly electronica-disliking electroclash scene. Unlike the very self-aware The Fat Of The Land, AONO all but abandons the notion of the radio single and concerns itself almost exclusively with getting people rocking on the dance floor. Dance music is a notoriously snobby area of music and fandom, and it’s my guess that this approach of Howlett’s was a decision made in direct response to the Baby’s Got A Temper catastrophe. So determined is Howlett to regain the Prodigy’s dance floor credibility, he’s completely left off any trace of fellow Prodigy members Keith “Firestarter” Flint and Maxim “Smack My Bitch Up” Reality (yeah, I know “smack my bitch up” comes from the Ultramagnetic MC’s but I’m quite sure Maxim performed the vocals in the Prodigy version). Instead, Howlett’s recruited a pretty varied platoon of vocalists including Princess Superstar, Twista, The Magnificent Ping Pong Bitches, Kool Keith, Juliette Lewis (yeah, I know, but she does one of the best tracks, “Hotride”), and the Gallagher brothers (Liam and Liam are now brother-in-laws, after all, both having married those two All Saints chicks).
The record sounds as if Howlett has discovered how to use BOOOOOM as an instrument itself. The bass is so heavy on such tracks as “Action Radar” and “Spitfire,” it actually makes my teeth shake. The lead single, “Girls,” seems to be intentionally designed to showcase all the different styles you’ll find on AONO. It’s saying, “You like this? Okay, how about THIS? Now THIS! You want more? Come on in…no, there aren’t any ravers here anymore….” The album continues to genre-hop, but not with the ferocious contrast of “Girls.” If anything, this is really the major downside to it. I wonder if Howlett completed the album and, just for fun, threw everything into one track and came out with “Girls.” I hope he makes more songs like it in the future.
Is the record worth a seven year wait? No, absolutely not. I think Howlett may have gone too far out of his way to avoid a catchy tune here and there in favour of pure groove and beats, and I do miss Maxim and Keith (Maxim does return on the b-side “More Girls”). But it’s still a good album, and that it won’t be massive will hopefully prevent Howlett from recoiling under the weight of the world’s expectations and keep him at the keyboards for another release soon.