The Prodigy – [Album]

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Here's the easiest way to say it: The Prodigy first appeared in 1990 sporting a noxious blend of punk rock, PCP and acid house that threatened to start fires while other electronic acts (like Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers) were happily kicking up dust at and loving their neighbors all night. They blew the floodgates wide open for crossbreeding the once exclusive camps of rockist snobs and chemically cooked ravers too – after Liam Howlett and his crew scorched the earth and leveled the previous pop designs, acts like The Propelorheads and The Crystal Method rebuilt a different, anthemic set of structures as well as a whole new pop ideology with them. They made it safe for bands like Fall Out Boy, The Used and, most recently, The Qemists to bounce electronic (read: keen, tidy and commercial) forms  off of punk values and not get accused of being the biggest, most obnoxious sell-outs since The Ramones let Phil Spector put a string section on End Of The Century.

After that dent was made though, it can only be said that The Prodigy were at a loss for what to do next. Liam Howlett produced a fantastic mash-up mix tape (Dirtchamber Sessions) before the band really started to flounder as members fell away and guest singers (including Juliette Lewis) further sapped their strength.

Now it's 2009 – eleven years after the decline began – and as the group fires up the cylinders for the menacingly toothless Invaders Must Die, it has become painfully apparent that The Prodigy has lost its way.

The problem with Invaders Must Die is that it is the archetypal Prodigy record – which is to say that the band is still trapped in 1997. The title track kicks off this abysmal display with a portion of what sounds like the same beat that opened “Firestarter” before launching into some very stiff and formulaic guitar and synth licks that would have sounded great and maybe even revolutionary a decade ago, but just feels stale now. The trend continues through “The Omen,” the craven “Warrior's Dance” and Dave Grohl-graced “Stand Up” – not a microtone is a surprise; anyone familiar with the band can guess where the breaks are going to be, what they'll sound like, the effects that will be used and when  Howlett will use the same old percussive cliches to try and build momentum. When you can do that, a whole lot of the joy of listening to any record gets lost, but the ennui is doubled in this case because Invaders is so damned static to boot.

Were The Prodigy aware that they might fall prey to these things while they were in the studio making this album? It's possible that at least a couple of the bandmembers were – that would certainly explain the distance  that both Keith “Maxim Reality” Palmer and Keith “Keef” Flint have put between themselves and the music here, it's totally plausible that they may have actually been phoned in. The vocal contributions from both singers are slight at best (the closest to a complete lyric sheet appears in “Colours”) and overly edited and patchwork at worst; as if the vocal lines were compiled and cobbled together from a series of unrelated outtakes and so the connective tissue that would normally bind singer and song is non-existent.

Up until this point in their careers, The Prodigy has always managed to mask the fact that they were a little unsure of what to do next after the shock of The Fat Of The Land subsided but with Invaders Must Die, that streak of ineptitude is as clear as the grey curling around the edges of each member's dye-job. Were it released in 1998, the album might have been looked upon as an excellent enactment of the then-new crop of “anarchy” spreading across the electro-dance scene but, being released in 2009, it's nothing more than an enactment of an anachronism.


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Invaders Must Die is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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