Remember when electronica went mainstream? Remember how the early nineties featured an onslaught of house, techno, jungle, acid, and umpteen other electronica genres, each one trying to one up the other with something new and exciting? Aphex Twin carried on Eno’s ambient legacy, Underworld brought house music to the movie-going masses, and Future Sound of London exposed the darker side of the genre as a whole. And then Liam Howlett and his project Prodigy dropped The Fat of the Land in record stores and clubs after a modest success with Music for the Jilted Generation, an album some consider as superior.
What The Fat of the Land did was to widen the electronica net, catching more listeners by the use of a major label, an `in your face’ image as portrayed by both Keith Flint and Maxim Reality, and radio / video-friendly singles such as “Firestarter,” “Breathe” and “Smack My Bitch Up.” It’s been a little over seven years since that album came out and the scene has changed dramatically. Raves are no longer as commonplace as they used to be, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Electronica has lost its edge, sheen, and popularity. Sure, there’s still some great acts out there, even ones that end up headlining festivals like Thievery Corporation. For the most part however, the party that started in 1997 is over. Someone forgot to tell Liam Howlett.
After a failed attempt at a comeback single in “Baby’s Got a Temper,” which has since been disowned by Howlett, the group had to do something drastic. Liam did just that by recording an album without vocalists Keith Flint and Maxim Reality, the boys who put a face to the success of the genre. (Sure, Flint scared children at first, but wasn’t that the point?) The album, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, is Liam alone with some help from some strange guest stars including Princess Superstar, Liam Gallagher, Twista, and Juliette Lewis.
First track, “Spitfire,” finds Howlett trying to regain the “Firestarter” magic, only this time with a female singer. It’s one of the few standout efforts in an album that even Howlett claims has `filler.’ “Girls” is just kind of silly, with old school hip-hop samples, robotic sounds aplenty, and a vocalist that sounds as monotone and detached as Carmen Electra. Ugh. It took me back to my studio apartment in Pacific Beach, the one above a garage that made me feel like The Fonz without any of the cool. On sunny summer weekends, someone across the alley from my window would blast The Crystal Method’s “Busy Child” on repeat. I contemplated waiting the five days for a sniper rifle.
What I am trying to get at is that I think Liam Howlett’s a very talented guy. I think he has done a lot for the genre of electronica and might even still have a lot to offer. Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is not the answer we were waiting for. Twista’s appearance on the track “Get Up Get Off” made me want to get up and turn off the stereo. “Hot Ride” is Juliette Lewis’ turn to shine, or perhaps not. It’s not that she’s a bad singer, in fact I was somewhat impressed with her breathy and then punky delivery, it’s the repetitiveness of the lyrics and music, and then the pitch changing chorus that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “Medusa’s Path” might be one of the tracks that Howlett considers filler, but the slow build-up of samples and textures make this one a keeper.
“Phoenix” is basically a remix of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz”, made semi-famous by Nirvana’s cover on Bleach. “Shootdown” is where fellow Liam, that is, Mr. Gallagher, gets his turn on the mic. If his voice were able to be heard over the guitars and we could make out what he was actually singing, it might have turned out to be a good song, the levels just weren’t set right. Or maybe Howlett wanted to drown him out? After all is said and done, the new Prodigy album, years in the making or at least in the anticipation, is nowhere near what fans could have been expecting. Next time don’t wait so long and maybe the bar won’t be set so high.
The Orb- Bicycles & Tricycles
The Crystal Method- Vegas