Monday, May 23, 2011

The Prodigy-Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/27/09.

1997's The Fat of the Land help the Prodigy break through the American mainstream as the album debuted at #1 in the album charts as it became a worldwide hit. Despite the album's success, the group courted controversy over its single and video for the song Smack My Bitch Up. At the same time, the group's vocalist and dancer Keith Flint became the face of the band as he grabbed all of the attention away from the group's brainchild Liam Howlett. In response to the controversy and Flint's sudden attention, Howlett released a DJ mix album called The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1 to rave reviews in early 1999. After that, the Prodigy suddenly disappeared with Flint and fellow vocalist Maxim Reality decided to focus on their own side projects. In 2000, dancer/occasional keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill left the group to forge a DJ career.

The Prodigy was unheard of until 2002 when the group decided to release a new single for the song Baby's Got A Temper. Originally a song for Keith Flint's side project, Flint asked Howlett to produce the track as it became a release from the Prodigy. The reaction towards the single was very negative while the song courted controversy over references a date rape drug. Howlett later disowned the single as he continued his hiatus until the summer of 2004 when he returned without Flint and Reality for a new album from the Prodigy featuring many guests entitled Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.

Produced by Liam Howlett, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is an album that has Howlett returning to the simplified sounds of The Fat of the Land with less emphasize on extended instrumental suites and more about songs. With guest appearances ranging from actress Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith, Noel & Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Princess Superstar, and many others. The record is about vocals as it meshes with various electronics with Howlett taking new tricks. Though it doesn't reach the heights of past albums nor brings anything new to the electronic music genre. Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is still a fascinating album from Liam Howlett and the Prodigy.

The album opener Spitfire with vocals by Juliette Lewis that features some bleeping keyboards and Eastern-like female vocal chants. With driving guitar riffs and blaring flute-like noises along with bumping, rumbling industrial-like drums. It's Lewis' punk-growling vocals that drive the song along with Matt Robertson's drum tracks and Howlett's arrangements of synthesizers and noises. The single Girls with vocals by the Magnificent Ping-Pong B*tches and samples of Style Of The Street by Broken Glass and You're The One For Me by D Train is a pulsating, upbeat track that pays tribute to old-school hip-hop. With robotic voices and raps, it is followed by fuzzy synthesizers and funky keyboard riffs as it's a great song that is filled with lots of energy and funk rhythms. The second single Memphis Bells with Princess Superstar on vocals has warbling, fizzed-out synthesizers with clapping, grinding beats and guitars. With Superstar's raspy, growling vocals, and bells in the background, it's an excellent song though it doesn't have much going for it musically.

Get Up Get Off with Juliette Lewis, Twista, and Shahih Badar is a fast, mid-tempo track with bumping, grinding beats with Twista's fast raps and Shahih Badar's wailing vocal chants. With Lewis' fuzzy vocals and musical presentation of droning synthesizers and keyboard melodies, it's a track that's fun though musically repetitive since not much goes on. Hotride with Juliette Lewis is an upbeat, fast-charging track with shimmering synthesizers, driving bass and guitars from Liam Howlett and Scott Donaldson, respectively, and backing vocals by Hanna Robinson. Along with a sample of Up, Up & Away by Jim Webb, it's a rocking song with industrial-like beats and Lewis' punk-style vocals as she also delves into a sexy vocal style reminiscent of Curve's Toni Halliday. Wake Up Call with Kool Keith is a track with throbbing bass lines and beats that drive the song with industrial-like beats for this rhythmic, intense track. Featuring Kool Keith's intense, engaging raps, it's a track that has bells ringing, wailing flutes, and distorted vocals from Hanna Robinson and Louise Boone.

Action Radar with Paul "Dirtcandy" Jackson is a mid-tempo, synthesizer-fused track with swirls and droning melodies that play through the pulsating beats. Yet, it doesn't have much imagination as even Paul Jackson sings in a raspy vocal that doesn't do anything which includes Louise Boone's backing vocals who sings in a sensual, high-pitch vocal style. Medusa's Path which includes samples of ELAHAYE Naz by Gholamhossein Banan and Plastic Dreams (Hohner Retro Mix) by Jaydee is an instrumental track of swirling, Indian music with throbbing beats and droning synthesizers along with fuzzy, wavy synthesizers. Musically, it has some good moments but nothing really interesting at all. Phoenix is one of the album's best cuts thanks to a sample of the Shocking Blue song Love Buzz, that was famously covered by Nirvana. The sample is the basis for the song with its melodic bass line with additional guitars from Matt Robertson and vocals from Louise Boone. With its grinding guitars, throbbing rhythms and melodies, it's a track that really stands out for its sample and deconstruction.

You Will Be Under My Wheels with Kool Keith is a track with horn-like synthesizer melodies, fuzzy beats and bass drones, wailing guitars, and Kool Keith's vocals. Despite its arrangements, the track doesn't do anything with Keith not doing much on the vocals department as it's surrounded by swirling synthesizers. The Way It Is which includes a sample Michael Jackson's Thriller with its use of its melodic, frenetic synthesizers and beats remixed by Matt Robertson and Rinse with engineer Neil MacLellan and Louise Boone adding vocals. Yet, with a song as famous as Thriller, it's the highlight of track but doesn't do anything with its fuzzy synthesizers and squealing, flute-like keyboard tracks. The album closer Shoot Down with Liam Howlett's brother-in-law Liam Gallagher on vocals and Noel Gallagher on bass plus a sample of My World Fell Down by Saggitarius is a mid-tempo, rocking song. With its melodic synthesizers and industrial-like drum tracks, Liam's raspy vocals bring some excitement in the song with driving guitars by Mike Horner. Though it's an excellent song, it doesn't entirely work due to Howlett trying to cram too many sounds with an overuse of synthesizers and instrumental bridges that kind of takes away the song's rocking energy.

Released in August 2004 and made in the span of six years, the album received mixed reviews from critics with some felt it was a letdown. Even as it came out seven years after its last studio album The Fat of the Land. The album was still successful commercially despite its sales not big in comparison to its predecessor with electronic fans felt it sounded dated at times. The record did manage to reveal that Liam Howlett was the man behind the brains of the Prodigy as a remix of Girls called More Girls featured Maxim Reality on vocals. It was around the same time that Howlett and vocalist Keith Flint were having a falling out as Howlett forged ahead with promotion of the new album.

While it's nowhere near the brilliance of the group's previous albums, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is still a good record from Liam Howlett and the Prodigy. With some excellent guest appearances from Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith, and the Gallagher brothers along with some great songs. It's a record that has some great moments and those that are all right but not great due to things that sound dated and not up to snuff with past recordings. Still, it's a record that rocks and is worth a listen. In the end, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is a good though flawed album from the Prodigy.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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