The Prodigy
Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

XL
2004
F



ven before anyone heard Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, it was indisputable that The Prodigy had dropped the ball. That ball was the future of electronic music in the US mainstream, which, after the top 40 success of “Firestarter” and the MTV support of “Breathe,” The Prodigy had been (perhaps mistakenly) entrusted with. Back in 1997, The Prodigy were at the forefront of the Big Beat acts (including The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Bentley Rhythm Ace) invading the US, propelled just as much by “frontman” Keith Flint’s pointy hair and spastic stage antics as mastermind Liam Howlett’s hyper-kinetic breakbeats and brilliant Breeders and Art of Noise samples.

Riding the coattails of those two huge hit singles, The Prodigy victoriously debuted at #1 with The Fat of the Land, an album many expected to cement electronic music’s “next big thing” status and permanently bring Big Beat above ground. It was only a temporary success, however, as critics found the album disappointing and formulaic and third single “Smack My Bitch Up” was consigned to late-night airplay on MTV due to its controversial (though arguably brilliant) video. OK, many thought, they’ll get it right next time.

But there was no next time. For a group that had released a single or album every year since the beginning of the decade, The Prodigy were suddenly disarmingly quiet. And in the meantime, there was no one to pick up their slack—The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk were too anonymous to ever make much of a lasting impression, and though Fatboy Slim’s success was undeniable, it was far more for his clever Spike Jonze-directed videos than his music. Big Beat steadily disappeared from mainstream consciousness, and The Prodigy were still nowhere to be found.

Flash to 2004, and fans are having a hard time finding a reason to believe. But after lead single “Girls” surfaced, it felt like that fear had been misplaced. A sexy, delirious electro pastiche, “Girls” saw The Prodigy lightening up for the first time in ages, leaning towards a direction that few anticipated.

But even more unexpected is the sound of the rest of the album. The bombast, the fury and the hip guest vocalists fromThe Fat of the Land are still all in tact, but what’s gone is the excitement. When “Firestarter” landed in 1996, most people had never heard anything like it before, but now that people have spent eight years having The Prodigy and their ilk providing the soundtrack to every action movie, video game and extreme sports commercial, it doesn’t quite have the same effect.

What’s far worse, however, is that The Prodigy expect that bombastic sound to be enough to carry the album. Take leadoff track “Spitfire,” which bears most of the trademarks of Fat opener “Smack My Bitch Up”—the industrial guitars, screeched vocal hooks, the hazy middle eastern-tinged female coos and the bad-ass attitude. The problem is the song never actually takes off. The beat pummels, but never resembles anything danceable, and the hooks are all too clumsy and bullying to be at all catchy or even interesting.

And sad enough, that’s about as good as it gets. Over the course of Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’s 12 songs, the album’s variety extends solely to which poorly used guest vocalist graces the track, including predictable choices like Kool Keith and Big Beat favorite Liam Gallagher and bizarre choices like Natural Born Killers actress Juliette Lewis and tongue-twisting hit rapper Twista. None of these superstars make much of an impression, at best merely distracting from the bluster of the backing tracks.

Oh yeah, “Girls” is still here, and it’s the only thing that saves the album from being completely worthless. Unfortunately, it’s placed early enough in the running order that it’s not much anticipated and quickly forgotten. And from there, nothing to look forward to except the slight novelty of hearing the Shocking Blue (via Nirvana) track “Love Buzz” turned electro, and naturally, even more evil sounding. Besides that, the album is absolutely interminable.

Were Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned released in 1999 when everyone else was releasing their mediocre post-big beat follow-up album, though it would still be unlistenable, it would also be excusable. But for The Prodigy to arrive at the after-party five years too late and with barely anything new to bring is the ultimate insult to the fans that were stuck with the unenviable position of defending them for almost a decade against overwhelming evidence. When (or, realistically, if) Liam Howlett releases a follow-up album in 2010, he can expect to find himself fresh out of friends to disappoint.



Reviewed by: Andrew Unterberger

Reviewed on: 2004-08-30

Recent Reviews By This Author

LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Pearl Jam - Rearviewmirror
Various Artists - DFA Compilation #2
Various Artists - Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the Underground
Fatboy Slim - Palookaville


Comments
Log In to Post Comments
Posted 08/30/2004 - 09:10:07 AM by kilian:
 i enjoyed this review, but it read more like a 4 or five out of ten than a 7/10.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 09:48:28 AM by todd_burns:
 due to a clerical error, for a short time this review had the wrong rating. it is correct now. apologies.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 01:08:30 PM by hutlock:
 This album debuted at #1 in the UK today. Anyone care to explain that one to me?
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 01:10:36 PM by hutlock:
 Also, not to be nitpicky, but were the Prodigy considered a "big beat" act back in the day? I remember them being a "rave" act with the first album, but I always thought they were more "drum and bass" than "big beat" after that. Granted I didn't listen to them much, but that was the impression I had anyway.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 01:31:03 PM by AUnterberger:
 Hutlock--Fat of the Land isn't really close to dnb at all. Along with early Chemical Bros., mid-late 90s period Prodigy I think is considered the definitive big beat act.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 02:48:46 PM by todd_burns:
 incorrect, andrew. fatboy slim is a much better choice for that designation. there was a TINY dnb influence on the prodigy with experience and jilted generation, but it never really flowered into anything substantial.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 02:55:24 PM by AUnterberger:
 Fatboy was sort of second wave, though--he didn't really get big in the States until '98-'99, whereas Prodigy and the Bros were blowing up in '96-'97.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 04:15:51 PM by todd_burns:
 just because he wasn't first doesn't mean he wasn't definitive.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 04:16:06 PM by todd_burns:
 first in America, mind.
 
Posted 08/30/2004 - 06:19:34 PM by AUnterberger:
 I really don't see his stuff being as bombastically big as the Bros. or Prodigy--maybe "Going Out of My Head" and "Rockafella Skank," but that's about it. I just don't see him as the big beat posterboy (and I don't see what denies The Prodigy that distinction).
 
Posted 08/31/2004 - 09:47:32 AM by hutlock:
 I agree with Burns myself. Fatboy had the whole Skint label with him, which was prime farmland for Big Beat acts around that time. He was a big-time club DJ as well. Did lots and lots of remixes for other artists trying to get with the style. I certainly always thought he was the "poster boy" for the movement. Of course, I still totally disagree that the Prodigy were "Big Beat" at all...
 
Posted 09/01/2004 - 10:03:17 AM by NickSouthall:
 I love watching Americans talk about Big Beat.
 
Posted 09/02/2004 - 08:58:40 AM by anokha112:
 I agree with todd & hutlock. chem bros & fatboy :: definitely big-beat. prodigy :: hard to classify but close to rock/punk-inflected electronica. correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the term big-beat come out of the brighton club of the same name where the chems and fatboy used to spin records? I've always felt liam & co have been slightly more edgy than their counterparts.
 
Posted 09/02/2004 - 02:18:35 PM by hutlock:
 I think you're right. And they used to be the Dust Brothers back then as well, before they got a cease-and-desist from the American Dust Brothers...
 
Posted 09/12/2004 - 12:55:26 AM by prodigyremixed:
 Try this version: http://www.prodigyremixed.com
 
all content copyright 2004 stylusmagazine.com