Obviously using a beta version of the Ciccone Careermaster, the Prodigy released their best song ever last summer and attached it to no promotional carriage beyond a few live shows. Album? Oops, forgot to make one—unless “Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned” is not just the name of an inappropriate (or is it hyper-appropriate?) shoot-’em-up game on the band’s Web site but also the title of an album due for release almost as long as My Bloody Valentine’s comeback.
Prodigy producer Liam Howlett’s a Brit genius/hack who never got over Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, God bless him. Howlett’s first best moment, “Firestarter,” allowed payroll nutjob/singjay Keith Flint to distract the crowd while Howlett swung hard and wide with a howling low-res digihook that will get him into the R&R Hall of Fame once someone in Cleveland gets the Auteur Theory memo. (Darned e-mail!) His other best moment is a rump-shaking remix of Method Man’s “Release Yo Delf,” widely compiled in the late ’90s. Too techno for hip-hop and too crunk for techno, the “Delf” remix arrays Howlett’s passions in a narrative snowstorm: hip-hop weight, avant textures, heraldic horn blasts.
Put the two songs together and you’ve got “Baby’s Got a Temper.” To make it clear he’s established his own genre and intends to improve upon it, Howlett reprises the hook from “Firestarter” and then throws in what feels like 30 more hooks, each one gloriously confused: distorted bass? angry computer? badly recorded boy? Human or digi, it’s all dance rock to Howlett. It’s Flint, though, who puts “Baby” up over the lip of the Terrordome. He opens with “you see me coming from a mile off/once again ignite the skyline,” which could offend plenty of people, and follows with “she’s gonna be pretty on money/just like your royal family,” which would have offended the queen before she shook Ozzy’s hand. None of that offended anyone. That was a job for the chorus: “We love Rohypnol/She got Rohypnol/We take Rohypnol/Just forget it all.”
Rohypnol is the so-called “date rape” drug, but nothing in the song suggests criminal behavior besides the pronoun “she” and the name of the drug. In fact, the lyrics suggest that Flint gets the rough end of the scrubby, but “Flint Abuses Self Again, Hurts No One Else” is a crap headline. All this distracts from the best bit, which ends the chorus: “This baby got a temper/This baby got a temper/This baby got a temper/You’ll never tame her.”
Baby’s got a temper? Not a sidearm? Not even a bottle? Just a temper? The singer looks like Pepé Le Pew on K and the track could be a field recording of a bad night in Yemen, but the words forswear all fire-starting. In the last place you’d look, English understatement wins the day. When facts begin to melt, context is the cheapest thrill in town.