Throughout the '90s The Prodigy stood out. They were more than just a dance music act - they innovated, pushed the boundaries, refused to accept the arbitrary division between electronica and other music. It was this spirit of innovation that made albums like Music for a Jilted Generation and Fat of the Land so arresting - they were stretching the music we loved so much into new and fantastic shapes.
So it's painful to have to say that their fourth album is by far their worst. What's even more disappointing is that they have had five years since The Dirtchamber Sessions (which was itself only a mix album) to work their magic.
It's hard to pinpoint what is wrong with Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. It certainly isn't a lack of effort or professionalism. Liam Howett, the creative heart of the band, employs every ounce of his legendary production skills on the project and, as a result, every track on the album is technically flawless. But something is missing - the essential verve and energy of tracks like "Firestarter" and "Smack my Bitch Up" has been replaced by cold technical virtuosity.
Perhaps a clue to the change is the disappointment and creative conflict around the 2002 single "Baby's Got a Temper". Critics slammed the single for sticking to the same formula as 1997's smash hit Fat of the Land, and the bickering that ensued saw founding member Leeroy Thornhill leave The Prodigy. As a result Always Outnumbered is pretty much a solo project for Liam Howett, though Maxim and Keith Flint are still nominal band members.
Not that Howett worked alone. The album features a diverse range of collaborators, from rappers Twista and Kool Keith, to actress Juliette Lewis, to Oasis' Liam Gallagher. But, in many ways these disparate elements only reinforce the sense of alienation. Without any common threads to pull the tracks together, they float in a disembodied arrangement that makes you want to ask "So what makes this a prodigy album?"
As a curiosity this album is definitely worth buying. It features a good couple of unique and utterly absorbing soundscapes. The single "Girls" for instance, is an electro-punk gem that most producers would be die to claim as theirs. "The Way It Is" is a gloriously funky frolic through break-beat heaven that would have any dance floor hopping. But a couple of tracks is just not good enough.
Perhaps it's unfair to punish the band for not making more of the same music that we liked in 1997. But it's hard to shake the idea that The Prodigy have given up all the things that made them unique, and wasted their talent by turning into a vanilla dance outfit. - Alistair Fairweather
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID"Though 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned' may lack the immediacy of their earlier malice, this is a still a veritable storm of apt samples, grumbling percussion and memorable riffs."- Lisa Haines, BBCi Music
"...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."- Andrew Unterberger, Stylus Magazine
"This is the first Prodigy album that does not in some way build of its predecessor, and it suffers. Certainly, Fat of the Land II would have been an uninspiring choice, but it seems as if this album is more concerned with abjuring the regrettable decisions of the past few years than in building a new a new and dynamic sound."- Tim O'Neil, PopMatters
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