Today witnesses the long-awaited return of an alternative-radio behemoth who sold millions of albums, a band that was once hailed as the"next big thing" but kind of went away, and now is releasing a new album, hoping to recapture a little of the original mojo. If you somehow missed the headline, you might have thought I was talking about Irish egoistes U2 (whose HRC-saluting No Line on the Horizon
comes out today), but no, I'm speaking of The Prodigy, the UK combo that, along with The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, broke through the grunge-rock hegemony with a crowd-pleasing brand of arena-techno in the mid-to-late '90s. However, among their "Electronica" comrades, The Prodigy is a unique concept: a one-man band with roots deep in the UK underground rave scene that became, depending on your perspective, cynical sellouts, a fun show to see in between Foo Fighters and Oasis concerts, or a brilliantly successful KLF-style theatrical art-prank. Their new album, the charmingly titled Invaders Must Die
, bugs me, but I'm not sure it's terrible, and the wild mix of reviews confirms the band's slippery meaning.
On the one hand, to even the most patient fan of hardcore electronic noise (hi there!), Invaders
is cartoonishly brutal. There are song titles like "Warrior's Dance" and "Run With the Wolves"—is Robert Bly a co-writer? Rolling Stone correctly identifies
the album's sound as "pummeling, vacuous rave noise," and ascribes the ridiculously thumpy title track to the same empty posturing that brought us 1997's controversial "Smack My Bitch Up." They give the album 1 1/2 out of 5 stars. On the other end of the spectrum, Spin looks kindly
on the band's "anthemic breakbeat spazz," acknowledging that it's "retro" but giving props to founder/producer/everything-but-dancer-and-screamer Liam Howlett's programming skills and awareness of musical history, offering 4/5 stars. Pitchfork comes right down the middle
with a 5.8/10 review, calling the more sonically extreme sections of the album "lunkheaded," but hearing echoes of the band's first album, 1992's ravey, silly, and wildly enjoyable Experience