After a seven-year wait during which their leader Liam Howlett had ditched a whole album’s worth of material, disowned their disastrous 2002 self-parodying comeback single, “Baby Got A Temper,” and relieved Keith Flint and Maxim of their duties, The Prodigy were always going to struggle to live up to the ground-breaking success of 1997’s US & UK number one, The Fat Of The Land.
So it was no surprise when their fourth studio album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, belly-flopped on its release in 2004, peaking at No.62 in the States and selling barely a fraction of its predecessor in their homeland of the UK. However, time has been kind, and eight years on, it’s clear that this album should never have been consigned to the bargain bins so quickly.
A solo album in all but name, Always Outnumbered… may have lost some of the thrill factor that Maxim & Flint provided, but by exploring everything from Bollywood-tinged R&B (“Phoenix”) to gothic Gary Numan-inspired synth-punk (“Action Radar”), Howlett proved that there was more to The Prodigy than their cartoonish child-scaring frontmen.
There’s still plenty of full-throttle mayhem. “Get Up Get Off” showcases Twista’s rapid-fire delivery against a backdrop of punishing breakbeats and speaker-destroying bass wobbles, Juliette Lewis’ snarling punk vocals provide the perfect foil for the blistering fusion of clattering hip-hop beats and stinging guitar riffs displayed on the suitably-titled opener “Spitfire,” and “Memphis Bells” pre-dates the dubstep explosion with its spacious rhythms, industrial synths and Princess Superstar’s suggestive tones.
But the ventures into newer and less abrasive territory are just as convincing. “The Way It Is” somehow manages to breathe new life into Michael Jackson’s often-sampled “Thriller” with its energetic robotic hip-hop makeover. Lead single “Girls” is a surprisingly slinky slice of glitchy electro made even all the more seductive by The Ping Pong Bitches’ sultry cooing vocals, while “Medusa’s Path” is worthy of gracing the big screen with its swirling cinematic strings and Middle Eastern chants.
Even so, this album is by no means a masterpiece. The lyrics are utterly generic nonsense, the techno-rock of “Wake Up Call” sounds like a leftover from their early raver days, and the less said about Liam Gallagher’s tone-deaf contribution to closer “Shoot Down” the better.
But whilst Always Outgunned, Never Outnumbered wasn’t The Prodigy album that people wanted, it’s perhaps the album that The Prodigy, at that moment in time, had no option but to make.