The Prodigy, 'Invaders Must Die' (Cooking Vinyl)

Critical Mass
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by Charles Aaron

When the Prodigy appeared on SPIN's September 1997 cover, the U.K. group's third album, The Fat of the Land, had been tagged as electronica's de facto reinvention of rock'n'roll. But it also marked the Prodigy's reinvention from rebellious rave icons to a theatrical rap-rock troupe performing punky hit "Firestarter" with no-hawked punchinello Keith Flint front and center. Madonna anointed it her favorite "workout music." talk about death knells.

But after a decade-plus of diminishing returns-2004's flailing Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned ditched Flint and MC Maxim reality in an ill-fated gambit -- Invaders Must Die is a stirringly workmanlike, if retro, blast of founder/producer Liam Howlett's anthemic breakbeat spazz. The deft drum programming and piercing synths of "Omen" (with Flint and Maxim back on mic) create the sort of gut-punching delirium that Justice could pull off if they weren't too busy smoking Gauloises by the infinity pool, while "Warrior's Dance" -- which irreverently bites True Faith's house classic "Take Me Away" -- is a restless, junglist pileup that could've changed the world for several strobing minutes in 1991. "World's on Fire" recasts "Firestarter" with tingly breakdowns instead of bratty prattle.

There's even a nod to their aging rave cohort -- the horn-sampling sunrise refrain of closer "Stand Up" emerges as Howlett's "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)." Sleep tight, mate, you've earned it.

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