Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
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Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
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This is an album of raw energy where the beats are the stars, and the voices just samples in Liam's sonic armoury. The guests whose vocals have undergone Howlett's subverted cut up techniques include Liam Gallagher, Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith, Princess Superstar, Ping Pong Bitches, Twista, Shahin Bada (better known as the spine tingling chanteuse from 'Smack My Bitch Up') and unknown lo-fi singer songwriter Paul Jackson from Dirt Candy.
Masters of reinvention, rave stalwarts Prodigy have undergone another remarkable facelift for their fourth album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. For band leader Liam Howlett, this mutation was less about ambitious experimentation and more the result of crucial damage control: the band's disastrous 2002 comeback campaign, spearheaded by "Baby's Got a Temper" found the band stagnant and on the verge of self-parody. Howlett's response was to scrap the sessions, hunker down with a laptop and hammer out an album that held spontaneity as a virtue. And while the old touchstones--the propulsive breakbeats of old-skool hip-hop, the brooding menace of punk-rock and acid-house--are all here sporting a fresh chrome gleam, they're joined by new influences: everything from crunk hip-hop to Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" bubbles beneath the surface of "Girls." Maxim and Keith Flint are absent, replaced by a bizarre roll call of stars--Liam Gallagher, Juliette Lewis, Twista--and obscurities anyone remember the Ping Pong Bitches? Not that it matters: this is Howlett's album, and whether he's rewiring Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz" as Middle Eastern-tinged acid techno on "Phoenix" or clashing with Kool Keith on "Wake Up Call," he sounds back on top of his game. --Louis Pattison
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The album opens with the energetic `Spitfire', a song that packs a wallop musically (that beat is instantly infectious) but never really goes anywhere. That is an issue I have with the bulk of this album. It packs an initial punch but then fades into redundancy and wasted potential. `Medusas Path' is another one. Musically, it is one of my favorite beats on the album, but the three-minute time span almost feels doubled by the time it is over. It just doesn't go anywhere. In a rave setting, this would be ideal, but listening to this over your stereo it comes off lacking. `Phoenix' is slightly better (thanks to the vocals, which are distinct of not a tad underwhelming in retrospect) but it lacks a memorable factor I was craving. `Memphis Beat' has some interesting layers of musicality woven into it, I just wish they had pushed it a little further.
`Get Up Get Off' benefits from liquid fire vocals by Twista, but it comes off feeling very dated.
I kind of found the whole `Thriller' rip off feel of `The Way It' to be a tad overly cheesy and unsuccessful. They should have really `owned' it if they were going to go this route. Instead it feels a tad too timid and unexpressive. `Wake Up Call' is just obnoxious with no real pay off. It's messy. `Action Radar' is also messy. I found the muffled scream nature of the vocals to be nothing more than annoying.
The rock influence that permeates the album seems overwhelmingly amateurish in my eyes.
But there are some highlights here.
`Girls' is fun, exciting and very different from the rest of the album. I like the playfulness of the beat, but it still has a serious edge. It's funny, because this beat is more engaged and even `heavier' than some of the more rock affluent tracks. The female vocals suit the beats extracted by the duo. I also rather love `Hot Ride'. The salacious vocals provided by Juliette Lewis help capitalize on the aggressive nature of the beats. I only with that the remainder of the album was as focused and attentive as this track. `You'll Be Under My Wheels' understands that a redundant beat has to have variance to make it interesting, and it nails that by layering the beat with nice little tricks that keep it interesting, even in the solitude of your car.
Overall the album is a miss. A handful of interesting tracks make this slightly better than a wasted effort, but in the end this is far less than I was hoping for.
It starts out with 'Spitfire,' which is one of the best songs to ever lead off an album, ever. 'Smack My Bitch Up' is a great song and a great way to kick things off, but for my money, 'Spitfire' runs right over it. It's every bit as heavy and "in your face" as SMBU, but it's also kind of playful, like when the electric guitar "spikes" into the vocals. There's just a ton of great little touches and it feels like a more complex song even though it's probably not.
I actually used to dislike 'Girls' at first and would sometimes skip it, and now I don't understand why, because the beat and the base are so good. It's a great song, and eminently catchy. I like the way it breaks you out of 'Spitfire' before leading you into 'Memphis Bells.' Which brings me to...
Ah, 'Memphis Bells.' This is my favorite song on this album, and one of my favorite Prodigy songs ever. I love everything about this song. I cannot keep myself still when I hear this song playing. It's impossible.
'Get Up Get Off' is very good song. This song has some of the more "abrasive" qualities in it that some Prodigy songs have which can make them hard to listen to, but lyrics in this song really bring it to life. Sometimes you hear a song like this, with lots of tritones and hard guitars driving the sound, and you feel like Liam is purposely making the song a challenge to listen to. But if you listen carefully, you'll hear a lot of interesting layers and textures in the sound. What I do think is interesting is how this song is almost a polar opposite to 'Diesel Power,' even though they both feature rapping. 'Diesel Power' is a better song, but it's hard to even compare the two since they're so different.
'Hotride' has this metallic banging sound in it that gets very repetitive, but in spite of that, it's a fun song to listen to. The female vocals are a nice touch, too. It sounds like a song that would fit perfectly in a heavy action scene of a movie.
'Wake Up Call' brings heaviness and attitude, and has the great kind of syncopation to it that so many good Prodigy songs have. It's a great song. I wish I could say more about it, but go check Youtube if you need more than what Amazon has demoed.
'Action Radar' is kind of weird, one of those punk rock-style Prodigy songs that I usually find a little hit or miss, but this one does have some musicality to it, especially when the female voice comes in. I can't help but like this song, especially when it references Janet Reno, which is basically the only lyrics that I'm able to understand.
'Medusa's Path' is the 'Mindfields' of this album, but while that's probably a good comparison, the two songs are very different. This is another really, really great song, one of the best on this album. This song, like 'Mindfields,' expertly blends different styles of music and the result is extremely pleasing.
'Phoenix' is another oddball. I love the little blasts of out-of-tune notes. If you don't like this song right away, try to just keep listening to it and see if it grows on you. I feel like this song is easy to judge too quickly based on its quirkiness, but it's definitely a great song.
'You'll Be Under My Wheels' is probably the worst song on this album. It's sort of atonal at times and repetitive. It has its merits and isn't entirely boring, but if there's one song on this album to skip, this one is it. Apparently it was used in the game Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and I can totally see this song being used for menu dressing (I usually turn menu music off though).
'The Way It Is,' just listen to that bass blat. Seriously, go listen to the sample right now. I often find Amazon's samples to be either too short or at the wrong spot (and always low quality for some reason), but this is a great sample. I love that bass. This is another one of those songs you'll be hard pressed to listen to and not move around. GREAT song!
I already mentioned this at the beginning (and in my 'Fat of the Land' review), but 'Shoot Down' is just an awesome way to end an album. This song has it all. It blends all the different genres Prodigy dips from without letting any one of them dominate the music. It's fun to listen to. It feels like a reflection of the album as a whole, how it all comes together as a cohesive unit, and ultimately is what pushes 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned' over top of 'The Fat of the Land' as the better album for me.
I would say that there are probably at least a few songs on 'The Fat of the Land' that are better than several of these songs, but again, this album just feels more complete, and the really good songs here are every bit as good as those other songs. This album has everything you could want from The Prodigy, which is a lot of ground to cover, but everything fits. It never feels disjointed or out of place. It somehow manages to cover way more ground while simultaneously feeling more cohesive. That is why I love it so much. The variety of this album is probably its best asset since it keeps it feeling fresh even after repeated listening.
Everyone has their own opinion, and I can see why some may think that 'The Fat of the Land' is a better album. However, you have to realize that if this masterpiece right here is the "worst" album, then Liam really has been spoiling us, hasn't he? I think it speaks volumes about the consistent quality of The Prodigy that an album this freaking great is generally considered one of their least good (that's why I bought the new album without having listened to a single second of it, and will continue to do so). Every diehard Prodigy fan needs to own this.
One note about Prodigy's music: if you can play it, buy it on vinyl. 'Invaders Must Die' in particular sounded MUCH better when ripped from vinyl, and I'm sure all of their other music is the same (haven't had the opportunity to check). The digital formats, whether mp3 or CD, are just overly compressed and it hurts the sound. The physical limitations of vinyl mean that the mastering sounds the best.
One other note about my review here: I have tried to temper my enthusiasm and use my adjectives accurately. When I say a song is "great," I really mean that I think it's a great song and not just a good one. If you happen to be reading my review and comparing it to what I said about 'The Fat of the Land,' keep that in mind.
More serious fans of the genre or of the Prodigy will surely find loads to complain about. For me, however, ignorance is bliss: this cd is a great listen.