The Prodigy 

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

With founding keyboardist Liam Howlett at the Prodigy's helm, the electropunk pioneers' unmistakable brand of hook- and sample-heavy techno won over underground audiences and critics alike by capturing the original atmosphere of the underground British rave scene. The mid-'90s corker "Firestarter" even gave 'em a bona fide mainstream mega-hit. But veering ever closer to stale, Alice Cooper-style arena rock, the Prodigy unwittingly garnered a bland, mainstream appeal -- while losing fans obsessed with the stifling limitations of electropunk -- that pulled the band ever further away from Howlett's original conception of a sound blending the spare synth-punk of Suicide with the infectious beats of pre-techno electrofunk pioneers the Gap Band.

To recapture the Prodigy's formerly fresh spontaneity for this long-awaited follow-up to 1997's MTVs-saturating The Fat of the Land, Howlett traded infamous co-member Keith Flint's punk rock showmanship and Maxim Reality's ragga hip-hop for a laptop, on which he recorded twelve electrifying tunes using an array of vocal samples from artists as diverse as Juliette Lewis ("Hot Ride"), Ping Pong Bitches ("Girls"), and Liam Gallagher ("Shoot Down"). But these cameos merely act as sidenotes to the beat- and bleep-driven tracks Howlett penned and produced himself. Complete with rave whistles and chanted vocals, he creates an aural assault that reacquaints the Essex-born group with its musical roots, best exemplified by the deconstructed "Thriller" bassline loop on "The Way It Is." An amalgamation of Sex Pistols punk and Public Enemy-inspired hip-hop reminiscent of dance music's pre-house halcyon days, Outgunned proves that the Prodigy may have been down for the count, but they ain't dead yet.

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