Always Outnumbered? In Liam Howlett’s case that’s not hard given that this album, The Prodigy‘s first in seven years, is a real solo affair, with Leeroy and Maxim gone and Keith Flint off underwhelming the world with his punk band.
However, solo doesn’t mean that he’s Liam No-Mates, and with an eclectic mix of guest vocalists ranging from the unknown Paul Jackson to Hollywood actress Juliette Lewis to fellow Mr Appleton Sister, Liam Gallagher, no-one could accuse Howlett of not mixing things up in order to banish the memory of the inadvertently self-parodic Baby’s Got A Temper.
So does he succeed? Well, yep. But then that would have been about as difficult as getting 100m sprinter Maurice Green to big himself up a little. The real question is whether Always Outnumbered is dripping with The Fat Of The Land. Is it a Firestarter? Is it good enough to Start The Dance? The answer, as a dodgy pop duo once said, is ooh, sometimes.
Things start off explosively enough with the deep and dirty guitar riff, heavy swirling electronica and thumping beat of Spitfire. Girls is also curvaceous with a surprisingly old skool, ’80s electro funky vibe that will have you robo-dancing again. At least in your head.
However, Memphis Bells is the first sign of weakness. Again, it pays more than a nod to the past with its bell-like motif a la Jilted Generation, but the melody is a bit obvious and the track monotonous. The urgent, punky riff of Get Up Get Off and its Eastern vocals mixed with rapping courtesy of Twista, are better, but one can’t help feeling that, although it’s got ticks in the boxes of hard, loud, and uneasy listening, the spark of ole genius is missing.
But Howlett always was an awkward so and so, and just when you’ve written him off, he comes up with a triumphant triumvirate in the middle of the album. Hot Ride is made by a beat reminiscent of a steaming train and a powerful, nicotine-fuelled vocal performance from Juliette Lewis. Wake Up Call is ultra-cool with scything synths and Kool Keith‘s authoritative rap, while Action Radar sees Howlett going all Gary Numan spook-synth on us while Paul Jackson gives it some Flint madness in the vocal department.
Alas, from this creative zenith there’s only one way to go and the attempt at expanse with the cinematic strings of Medusa’s Path sees the track going nowhere in particular. Phoenix takes Shocking Blue‘s classic hit Love Buzz and mashes it up into a stop-start funk jam that’s far from convincing, especially coming a full 15 years after Nirvana‘s even more grooving, grunge cover version.
Where You’ll Be Under My Wheels is album-filler with little to commend it, The Way It Is is actually pretty clever in the way it takes Michael Jackson‘s Thriller bass-line and uses it in a simple progression. However, it’s only intermittently exciting and by the end, slightly irritating.
Shoot Down is not a bad way to go out, mind. Yeah it’s contrived having Liam Gallagher on the mic, but to be honest it could’ve been anyone such is the vocal distortion in this punky, guitar-led tune that has blasts of high volume knowingly interrupted by interludes of what sounds like a kid’s music box.
Towards the end of Shoot Down, the vocal confidently asserts that, “Your time is running out.” With nothing as emotive as No Good (Start The Dance) on Always Outnumbered, nothing as mesmerising as Firestarter and nothing simply as rocking as Breathe, these words could be taken as a prophetic statement levelled at Howlett himself.
But we shouldn’t write him off just yet. A good half of this album is still up there, loudly hitting the right buttons and vying for your attention, showing that, while being Never Outgunned is a bit of wishful thinking from The Prodigy these days, they can still pistol-whip the opposition when they really want to.