Can you believe it's been eight years since Firestarter came out? That was supposed to be the song that saved us from the mediocre grunge that was just starting to overwhelm the radio dial. Guess it didn't work too well.
Not that you can blame The Prodigy for trying. By putting a human face (singer Keith Flint) on an otherwise faceless genre and constructing tightly woven songs, the English group produced a better-than-average rock album (Fat of the Land) that capitalized on a brief interest in big-beat electronica that still holds up pretty well.
Producer Liam Howlett is back at it, but Mr. Flint is AWOL on this CD, replaced by a medley of singers, including Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith and Liam Gallagher. Not bad for a group that's been inactive for so long.
Yet, for all the bigger, badder boisterous beats carved into this disc, little sticks inside your skull. Hot Ride, featuring Ms. Lewis, is a bright spot, building slowly from an almost sweet cooing to an explosive shriek, blending perfectly with a jagged-edged synthesizer.
Medusa's Path has a fuzzy, almost hypnotic, wordless rhythm, accentuated by the noises of Iranian artist Gholam Hossein.
Beeps, thumps, clicks and snaps all have their place in Mr. Howlett's universe, preferably woven together like a spider web. Only once does Mr. Howlett flirt with the oversize ball-peen hammer thump of Fat of the Land, on Shoot Down.
Unfortunately, it's also reminiscent of the worst cartoonishness the group had to offer.
BEFORE JOSH Homme's Queens of the Stone Age hit the jackpot, it seemed as though Fu Manchu would be the most prominent remnant of the seminal stoner rock band Kyuss. Whereas Queens adopted a punchier, pop-rock friendly sound, Fu Manchu has always been about a singular sound; something akin to playing the guitar through a bass amp. Under water. Inside a cave. At jet-engine levels.
Singer Scott Hill croons quite convincingly. Think of it as heavy metal for the those who can appreciate the irony of alternative rock.
Start the Machine is loud and fast. Only once does the group slow down for an introspective, and dreamy lyric-free Out To Sea.
Better representation is held by the first two tracks, Written in Stone and I Can't Hear You, the latter is a brilliant mush up of hard-core punk shout-out attitude and their trademark sound, and it lasts all of 90 seconds. Sometimes that's all you need.
Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CD: The Prodigy, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (Maverick/XL)
The verdict: HH
The CD: Fu Manchu, Start the Machine (DRT)The verdict: HHH