One of the tardiest follow-ups to a crossover album in modern history, the very title of Prodigy’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned seems to defensively acknowledge that the electronica throne has been occupied by any number of acts since their 1997 breakthrough The Fat Of The Land (and its massive, woofer-working, Playstation-rocking single “Firestarter”), and some of those acts have managed to reinvent their angle and take a second round on the exalted chair. Owing as much of their success to the jackal-like punk frontman Keith Flint as they did to producer Liam Howlett’s arena-rave aesthetic, Prodigy (or their publicists) positioned themselves as the dark, heroin-chic alternative to those darlings of college radio, Chemical Brothers (who were, at their hardest, sort of a light LSD- and E-chic). Now, with electronica having devolved into Madison Avenue-gentrified, Café del Mar MOR, what is Prodigy to do? Well, apparently not much. Outgunned has any number of songs that retain the same aura of encrusted sleaze that made “Breathe” and “Narayan” such compelling listens, even if they were no match for the Chemical’s multi-leveled collages of bombast. But in comparison, the group sounds tentative and immobilized. “Girls” opens with a filtered-out hip-hop hook (“Tour all around the world/Tell stories about all the young girls”) that sounds like a filthy ‘80s porn groove hiding the lesions on its arms, and it’s genuinely unsettling. But by the time the beat kicks in, all that’s subtly unnerving about the track is swept aside in favor of generic sounding snuff drum kicks. “The Way It Is” swipes the break from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”—you know, that midnight funk riff that Vincent Price raps over—and just sort of throws superfluous synthesizer twiddles in here and there and attempts to “scarify” the bassline. Throughout the album you’ll just want to pat them on the head for recognizing a great sample, but you probably won’t want to dance or debauch to its accompaniment.
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