How The Prodigy was reclaimed from the MTV masses, media misconceptions, style wars, star systems, haircut hullabaloo, celebrity trivia, global success, International pressure, forced expectations, erupting egos, punk rock formula, claustrophobic studios and the watchful guidance of ‘those in the know’.
The Prodigy is about the beats. Always has been. From the day that Liam Howlett put together his first demo, and the subsequent ‘What Evil Lurks EP’, it was about the beats. His debut album “Experience” was driven by beats, as was the follow up “Music for the Jilted Generation”.
The Prodigy is also about punk. Electronic punk that is. A sound that The Prodigy defined with ‘Poison’ in 1995, refined with ‘Firestarter’ (the last truly great #1 single of the twentieth century) a year later and conquered the planet with on their record breaking “The Fat of the Land” album.
By the time The Prodigy released the ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’ single in July 2002 however, the electronic punk genre they had invented looked set to turn them into a parody of themselves. Electronic punk had become a creative straightjacket intent on stifling all forms of progression. Clearly something had to give.
‘Baby’s Got a Temper’ may yet come to be regarded as the most important single of The Prodigy’s career though. It was a wake up call for Liam to rediscover the heartbeat that had always pulsed at the core of The Prodigy, the lifeblood that was always far more important than the rest of the bullshit; those beats.
If ‘Poison’ delivered the electronic punk genre and ‘Firestarter’ defined it as a global presence, then ‘Baby’s Got a Temper’ killed it once and for all. And with what had become The Prodigy formula destroyed, Liam was once again able to explore.
“I wanted to make the most honest an album that totally represented what I was about.” He says “I’m still drawing on the same inspirations as when I was kid, Public Enemy and The Sex Pistols . It had to be about the music. And I knew I had to get back to doing stuff for myself. I had to ask myself again what the fuck I was about. And ‘Baby’s Got a Temper’ wasn’t it.”
So Liam scrapped a year’s worth of new tracks (“I had about four ideas that were any good.”), locked the doors on the stale atmosphere of his studio and started writing on his laptop.
The beauty of this approach was that, just like a guitarist, he could write anywhere.
“I’d find a place I’d be happy in, usually in my bedroom, usually at about midnight, usually with a couple of glasses of wine, James Bond on the DVD… you know what I mean. I was writing for the fun of writing again.”
And it shows. The freedom from punky preconceptions and the mobile approach to writing has injected a new spontaneity into The Prodigy sound. Just one listen through “Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned” and the freshness hits you. Liam has rediscovered his beats and in return delivered a set that’s dirty, sleazy, funky and ironically, far more punk than anything he’d previously recorded.
This is an album of raw energy where the beats are the stars, and the voices just samples in Liam’s sonic armoury. Gone are the up front vocal performances. Instead Liam has recorded various voices and treated them like samples and utilised them as a part of the overall sound.
The guests whose vocals have undergone Howlett’s subverted cut up techniques include Liam Gallagher, Juliet 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. That artists were either known or unknown was irrelevant to Liam’s master plan – the sound of the voices was far more important.
Contrary to the rumourmill, all three original band members are still together and will be taking this album live. Keith and Maxim will be back in the frame for the live shows - as they were in the beginning.
With the opening cut ‘Spitfire’ Liam lays down his manifesto. From the swaggering, low slung break, contorted guitars and pulsing Bomb Squad style b-line to the lysergic Arabic refrains and petulant cut-up vocals ‘Spitfire’ screams “Prodigy is back!”. And they’re sleazier, sexier and downright punkier than ever before. This is heavy!
Take first single ‘Girls’ which spins on the ground where tech-funk meets old skool electro and a slab of The Clash’s take-no-prisoners, know-no-boundaries attitude. Or ‘Memphis Bells’ which offers a twisted, dirty take on Timbaland’s future sci-funk. The energy is still there, so is the tuffness, but the room to breathe adds a newer level of tension.
Elsewhere Liam rips through fucked up Prodigy-style hip hop on ‘Get Up Get Off’ and punk rock meets phycobilly mayhem with ‘Hotride’ (featuring vocals by Juliet Lewis). ‘Action Radar’ finds stretched out 80’s trash synth lines beaten into submission by a Paul ‘Dirt Candy’ Jackson vocal. ‘Under My Wheels’ is a stripped down bass and beats instrumental featuring backward guitars and a vibrant classical hook. It also finally brings the Prodigy live favourite ‘Rock’n’Roll’ by Kool Keith bang up to date.
Cinematic edginess is explored on ‘Medusa’s Path’ (a fusion of Iranian artist Gholam Hossein and Soul Sonic Force style synth) and subverted bootleg strangeness throttled on ‘Phoenix’ (aka Shocking Blue’s ‘Lovebuzz’ in a stabs, bleeps and thunder showdown).
“It was a pure case of jack the tune and rock a beat over it. A bootleg – simple as that. It scares me that tune when I listen to it. It’s got a really weird vibe about it.”
Other key tracks include ‘Wake Up’ where Kool Keith can be heard sparring with Liam’s beats. It’s a personal message to Liam from himself, via the onetime Ultramagnetic MCs don, to wake up and smell the napalm. ‘The Way It Is’, the album’s funk fuelled piece de resistance, delivers girl vocals dripping over chicken grease guitars and a bass line chopped from Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Imagine Tom Tom Club’s ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ sleazed up by Cameo and trashed by The Prodigy.
“The whole vibe was to take the ‘Thriller’ loop and see how far I could go with it. It’s a club track, but not in the house sense. You know I fucking hate house. This is more about 80s club stuff like The Gap Band before house.”
“Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned” comes to a close with sound of Liam Gallagher as rewired through the Howlett sonic weaponry. ‘ShootDown’ rocks as the album’s most garage guitar driven tune and is ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’s final assault.
Written on a laptop in a bedroom in Essex, mixed in London and mastered in New York, “Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned” is the sound of Liam Howlett reclaiming the Prodigy and putting the beats back in their rightful position - centre stage. And the end result is an album that deserves to be The Prodigy’s 4th album, back and fresh.
The King of the Beats is back - 2004 style.
Thanks to Neciv for them link.