February 12th, 2009 | by John Doran
A criticism often levelled at Cooking Vinyl is that it resembles a second division football team with enough money to buy once gloriously talented players who are now past their prime and a few years away from retirement. Yet this isn't perhaps all that fair, for the likes of Frank Black, Gary Numan and Killing Joke have done some of their best work in years as part of the Cooking Vinyl stable. Having said that, they've still put out dreck by the likes of Carter USM and The Vines; and that's before mentioning their horrific mishandling of Bauhaus, who were allowed to release a batch of dismal demos as an album instead of scrapping the whole sorry affair. So it was with a mix of trepidation and joy that we received the news that their latest Autumnal signings were rave pioneers turned world bestriding electro punks, The Prodigy.
Invaders Must Die, thankfully, doesn't try to recapture past glories. Neither does it rely on the default stadium industrial setting deployed by all big bands lacking in inspiration, or avoid any of rave's ecstatic tropes that certain armchair-bound critics have found gauche in the past. Instead we have a breakneck speed genre smash that has its eyes set firmly on summer festivals, high velocity car stereos and nerve-jangling console games. That's not to say it's an unmitigated success, but it's certainly their best album as a whole since ...Jilted Generation, while not having the same obvious spread of hit singles.
Whatever genre Howlett's beady magpie eye happens to be twinkling at here, he's never that far from hardcore. When this works well it's superb; check for example 'Take Me To The Hospital'. For any knackered Cheesy Quavers reading it's both radio rental and chicken oriental matey, featuring break beats so massive they can be heard from the Great Wall Of China; serotonin stirring synthetic synth stabs and a serious nod to 'Out Of Space' in the form of the hyper speed chipmunk vocal lines and Keith Flint snarling: "Along came a SPIIII-DERRRR!" One can only wonder at the number of injuries that are going to be incurred by superannuated dancers being transported violently back to '92 by this monstrous track. Also worth mentioning is the "Come on you Walthamstow mentalists!" exuberance of 'Thunder'; the laser tunnel 808 State-isms of 'Warrior's Dance' and the hectic title track.
A few tracks are concertedly 'not dance' such as the long-rumoured Dave Grohl collaboration 'Run With The Wolves'. Instead this is a bracing electro punk thrasher that uses Moog oscillations in the same way Kerry King deploy a guitar solo – wild tones flying all over the place. But it goes to show that when the group are using the production techniques of rave to make a rock song (or vice versa) they are on solid ground, unlike when they're trying to combine these two most oil and water like genres.
This is not to say it's all gravy; the otherwise excellent MUSE go souped-up Cortina Breakbeat of 'The World's On Fire' is ruined by the presence of a keyboard riff aping the none-more useless Stranglers. And closing song 'Stand Up' is something of a grandly ambitious misfire. It aims for the kind of 'we're all mates together' bonhomie that Howlett's brother-in-law Liam Gallager and his wretched group Oasis spend a lot of their time scrabbling for. The trouble with inclusiveness is that if you want to touch every single person in a stadium you have to drop your bar pretty fucking low to allow everyone entry. This imagines (quite successfully, I reckon) what the production on the mooted Death In Vegas-recorded Oasis album would have sounded like. (I.e. Bently Rhythm Ace with Slade's back end.) Although, it has to be said that a lot of people are going to be stepping hard to this beat come summer and festivals.
While it's no Jilted Generation; it's good to have Invaders placing The Prodigy near the top of Cooking Vinyl's already impressive Premier League.