Album review: Invaders Must Die, by The Prodigy
In light of the media’s renewed commitment to transparency, I feel compelled to declare a vested interest in awarding the Prodigy’s new album full marks from the outset.
With whistle and glowstick in hand, I welcomed in the new year at Brixton Academy in 1992 to the sound of Liam Howlett’s pioneering warp-speed techno. At a time when electronic music was still a cheesy Euro pop novelty, the evening could hardly have felt more exhilarating.
Breakbeat belters like Out of Space and Everybody In The Place took machine music into another dimension and inspired acts like Underworld, Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers to pay close attention. Dance music has never been the same since.
Euphoric debut album Experience hinted at Liam’s knob-twiddling talents, which were fully realised on his 1994 masterwork, Music For The Jilted Generation. Fifteen years later it remains electronic music’s seminal record.
Seduced by success, our hero went from the sublime to the ubiquitous on third album Top Of The Pops, ahem, I mean Fat Of The Land – unforgivably swapping slightly satanic breakbeat for a softer commercial sound and adding the vocal stylings of tone-deaf dancer Keith Flint.
Keef’s Sex Pistols screech turned Firestarter into a granny-scaring smash hit, but the novelty wore off on contrived follow-up Mindfields with its inane chorus, ‘This is dangerous, watch your head rock!’ (Err, thanks for the health and safety warning).
Giving Keef and his sing-along choruses the boot couldn’t prevent 2004’s solo effort Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned from being a tuneless techno turkey. The great man, it seemed, had lost the plot.
So my glowsticks were anxiously crossed as I pressed play for the first time on album five. Surely Liam had finally learned his lesson, barred his buddy from going anywhere near a microphone and returned to churning out nosebleed anthems.
Well, kind of. He cannot resist giving his old pal something to snarl about on current single Omen which, despite Keef’s trite input (‘The writing’s on the wall, it’s an omen’), is still a thrilling, rotten-to-the-core throwback full of wailing sirens and violent beats.
Freed from the shackles of absurd lyrics, Liam’s beats take on a life of their own. Warrior’s Dance and Take Me to the Hospital see him tipping his hat to old skool hardcore, before bringing out the heavy artillery on Piranha and Runs With The Wolves, which features Dave Grohl bashing out a snarly drumbeat.
Invaders represents Liam’s welcome return to dark yet danceable breakbeat, euphoric ravey synths and enough bass to melt your face, but it never comes close to the cerebral creativity of his masterwork.
The time has come to reluctantly concede that Invaders, while being far, far better than anyone who has felt jilted since, er, Jilted can rightly expect, heralds the beginning of the end of a prodigious career.
A begrudging four stars it is then.
• First published in thelondonpaper.