Forgotten anniversary • АОNО ♻ 2003

 
Many people know that Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned has been updated several times, but much fewer are aware that it has actually been re-recorded at least three times! The first version is the legendary unreleased one with tracks like Trigger, Nuclear, Baby’s Got a Temper and others. The third one is of course the final ‘2004’ version. And in between, at the end of 2003, there was another revision: the quite raw demo album, mostly recorded in Reason. This version partly made it to the release as a couple of album “fillers”, some of the tunes partly went as the B-sides and the rest went into the trash. So today, at the end of the year, we have a traditional article about the forgotten 20th anniversary! Previous articles in this series can be found here and here.

Photograph by Steve Gullick

Despite the fact that Liam didn’t give any interviews or release any tracks during 2003, he did drop a few words towards the end of the year.

The first was an interview for the Propellerhead website (not to be confused with the band of the same name with an “s” at the end!) about their Reason music software, in which Liam started to re-record the album from scratch – incidentally, this interview was published exactly 20 years ago, on 15 December 2003.



In the grand scheme of things, The Prodigy’s revival and return to the stage after a long hiatus was inspired by the Propellerhead software, which has given Howlett much of his inspiration and fresh ideas for new tracks back. In the interview, Liam spoke at length about the stagnation he found himself in after The Fat Of The Land and how a compact laptop with Reason installed and full of his own samples literally brought him back to life and gave The Prodigy’s music a second wind. Howlett literally says he “couldn’t live without it”

Despite the fact that much of the material was written on a laptop, it’s hard to find a substitute for some of the analogue stuff. One of the obvious shortcomings indirectly mentioned in the interview was Reason’s limited ability to work with bass. Howlett played parts on an Oberheim, Moog or Korg MS-20 first and then fed the result into Reason because, according to Liam, analogue synths simply can’t be replaced by digital – they’re unsurpassed in warmth and authenticity.

Generally speaking, about half of the work was done in Reason. Due to the fact that the sound was still not up to Howlett’s standards, and due to some of the software’s limitations (such as the inability to record vocals), almost all of the tracks created on a laptop at that time were either completely finished/reworked in a full-blown studio on Pro Tools, or ended up as B-sides due to a lack of alternatives.


Neko, aka Andrea Schnepf.

After the ‘Propellerhead’ interview, Liam almost immediately gave a more in-depth interview to Neko, in which he revealed loads of new details about the forthcoming album. The main narrative, of course, was still the same – “leaving BGAT” and “going back to the roots”, when The Prodigy had more music and beats than songs in the traditional sense. But most importantly, Liam talked about all the material that was ready for the new album and even announced the working track list.

  • Sandstorm
  • The Way It Is
  • Lovebuzz
  • Girls
  • Who You’re Fooling
  • Action
  • Slang Technology
  • No Souvenirs
  • Wake Up
  • Gun

He also added that there are 3-4 more tracks that he hasn’t thought of titles for yet!

If you pay close attention, only half of these tracks will end up on the album. Their finalization, as well as additional recording for the rest of the album, will be done by Liam’s closest associate, long time friend and musical colleague – Neil McLellan.



So we decided to make a detailed breakdown of the above mentioned tunes recorded by Liam towards the end of 2003!

SANDSTORM

Sandstorm is a breakaway piece from the cover of Nighboat To Cairo, which was completed by the same Neil McLellan. The updated version of it will appear on the final album under the title Medusa’s Path, and Neil talked about it in detail in an interview with Gordy in 2021.

Gordy: “You’re mentioned as a co-producer of Medusa’s Path. And what exactly have you done on this track?”

Neil: “Oh, that is old school, great record, I did loads on it. I did later synths, I did lots of the arrangement and the editing. If I remember correctly, those beats that you hear after the intro had those very high-end frequency things, I think I came up with that. That was a really amazing collaboration across the board. The intro sample was from an Iranian guy, Gholamhossein Banan — I know that we had a real problem finding this and that and the other. He was popular in Iran before the revolution, and once the revolution happened, a lot of this music got put into the institute, they formed a kind of Institute of Iranian music. I think we got in touch with his son in America and bought the sample out. But I can’t remember who exactly brought the sample… I’m pretty sure it was on a cassette somewhere, but I can’t remember, to be honest with you. But yeah, I did a lot of the synths, and what have you on there.”

The Way It Is

According to Liam, the demo for The Way It Is was also recorded in 2002, before Liam left the studio and started writing tracks on a Reason laptop in his bedroom. Howlett talked about this in a chat with DJ Times in December 2004.


Photograph by Rahav Segev | djtimes.com

Howlett for Brian O’Connor (DJ Times): “The record company was, “$&*#, are you going to start again?” And I was like, “Yeah.” So then I went back into my studio in my house in Essex. It’s quite a big house, and it’s got gardens and it’s really relaxed. It’s a good environment and I went back into the studio for four months straight, me and my producer. We just sat there and I think the only thing I completed was the Michael Jackson [“Thriller” sample] track [‘The Way It Is’].”

Incidentally, you could hear remnants of Michael Jackson’s vocals in the early demo!

Lovebuzz

Lovebuzz is not actually a cover, but a Liam’s remix of a Shocking Blue track (released on the 2004 album under the name Phoenix). The track was neither re-sung nor re-constructed, Liam simply remixed the original with his own beats. You can understand this if you compare the 1969 original with Howlett’s Phoenix and look at the sample list. By the way, in one of the interviews Liam said that it was actually a kind of bootleg remix and that he didn’t even know that Nirvana had done a full-fledged cover of the same song.

Girls & Wake Up

Girls and Wake Up are the first two complete collaborative tracks recorded in 2002. The demo of ‘Girls’ with Ping Pong Bitches was supposed to have Kool Keith‘s verse at the very end and the ‘Wake Up’ mix was supposed to be fully vocal! We wrote about this in the article about AONO#1.

Liam Howlett with the Ping Pong Bitches

Who You’re Fooling

The sound of Who U Fooling didn’t even make it onto the album’s filler, becoming the B-side of the Hotride single.

Action

A lot of people confuse Action with Action Radar, but that’s not quite right. ‘Action Radar’ was recorded almost at the last moment with Dirt Candy, while ‘Action’ was a separate demo titled after Maxim’s lyric, taken from Nuclear: “Every Action a Reaction!”

Screengrab from ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (Demo Mix)’
Job done by Jimmy Turrell

Howlett for Neko: “Actually ‘Nuclear’ turned into ‘Action’ and we used a bit of Maxim’s voice on that. That one sounds still like an old Prodigy song; it still needs a bit of work.”

Slang Technology

According to Liam, Slang Technology was a simple hip-hop track featuring Noreaga (aka N.O.R.E., the famous American rapper). Rumor has it that the instrumental was somehow later used somewhere.

Howlett for Neko: “Noreaga – I really wanted to work with him. By the time it finished it, it sounded very dated like he was talking about hummers and shit, you know like, it wasn’t really Prodigy, it was more like straight hip hop, it didn’t sound twisted enough. The lyrics just weren’t right for the album even though his flow u can’t fuck with. Also, I didn’t want to have collaboration after collaboration. In my mind the way I used vocals, they were more used as samples, I didn’t really want any more full vocal tracks, you know.”

No Souvenirs

No Souvenirs with 3D from Massive Attack was planned to be released in its 2002 version, left over from the time of the very first AONO. You can also read more about this in our article about that period.

Howlett for Neko: “At the moment the direction ‘No Souvenirs’ is going in, is more an album track, but that’s as specific as I can be really. We’ve tried to make ‘No Souvenirs’ go in a certain style. And that was kind of like back in 1999 but now it feels like it has its place as a great album track.”

Gun

Gun could be called the title track of this period. Quite an interesting tune that went through many stages of re-recording. As many people know, this banger was originally called Trigger and featured Keef Flint and Maxim’s vocals, and was planned to be on the first version of the album in 2002. But when the concept was revised, the track went under the knife and was re-recorded with Liam Gallagher, and several times. The very first time was at a drunken party at Liam’s house.

Howlett for Soundonsound.com: “My house is a party house — we always have people over at the weekend and there’s always stuff going on,” Liam says. “It was during one of those weekends that Liam and I finally made it into the studio. We were both really pissed and it was three in the morning but we thought what the hell — let’s go up and do that track now. So we went into the studio and recorded the vocals. I had various tracks lying around and I played him through some stuff and let him choose the one he liked. It was just a loop with a guitar and he spat loads of lyrics down. We listened to them the next day, picked what we liked and laid them down properly. The funny thing was, because I was really pissed, I managed to set the mic up and get levels on the mic but I was so knackered I couldn’t work out how to get his voice on to separate tracks on the tape machine. So I ended up recording his vocal onto the same track as the music. The next day I had loads of wicked delays and mad effects set up and was all ready to use them when I realised what I’d done. Liam was saying ‘Let’s use that bit,’ and I was going ‘I can’t — it’s all on two-track.’ Somehow we managed to piece it together by re-recording the bits of the vocals that were really screwed, and eventually it worked.”

This is how the so-called Rough Mix was recorded. It was played on Radio One by Noel, Liam Gallagher’s brother, a few years after the album was released.

A little later the track Gun was finished and even sent out for promo purposes as a demonstration of the sound of new material from the forthcoming album.

Howlett: “The original version was even rockier, and at first Liam wasn’t sure if it fitted in. “There were a couple of different versions to start with, so I messed around with them until I got a track that sounded how I wanted it”

The track is featured on the Peermusic Picks. The Best Of New And Upcoming Releases Vol.2 promo.

Various – Peermusic Picks. The Best Of New And Upcoming Releases Vol.2

Gun Reprise

While working on the track Gun, the idea of doing a Reprise version of it came up. This idea later lived up even to the Invaders Must Die album.

Neko: “The Gun Reprise track, you once told me it was a part of Gun/Shoot Down at some point?

LH: “Basically, that was an orchestral version with strings of bits of Shoot Down (Gun), it was originally going to be on the album, but in the end I just didnt bother.

Although this version was played live several times in 2004/2005, and also as a filler in later years, the original version can only be heard in the hidden AONO (Demo Mix) video on the ‘Their Law’ DVD, where this track is split into 2 parts. The mix starts and ends with Gun Reprise. We can only guess what the order of these 2 fragments was in the original track.

For example, it could sound something like this:


Other 4 tracks:


In addition to all of the above, there were a few more tracks: “There are still 3 or 4 tracks that I haven’t got titles for at the minute.” From the same interview with Neko in December 2003, it’s not hard to guess that it was the collaboration with Peaches, the Memphis Bells demo (which was also included on the AONO Demo Mix), the track Smoke, which later became the demo for Under My Wheels, and a certain second demo that came out of Nuclear.

Second Demo from ‘Nuclear’

Perhaps this is the same demo that was played on the Radio 1 section of the ‘Their Law’ website:

Liam for Neko: “Some of the musical parts of ‘Nuclear’ were really good — so I pulled some of those parts out, and I think ‘Nuclear’ ended up being two different tracks. One of which is what I am working on at the moment. So ‘Nuclear’ actually survived pretty well actually, thinking about it. It isn’t ‘Nuclear’ anymore and it hasn’t got Maxim on it (unlike ‘Action’), but it’s a different track.”

Smoke

In the music license databases you can find the registration of Smoke, before Neil turned it into a full-fledged You’ll Be Under My Wheels. From the sound it’s obvious that it’s like a “Reason” demo, nothing more, nothing less.

Demo w/ Peaches

Liam for Neko: “I can tell you which ones didn’t work. Peaches didn’t work. We tried to do something. The vibe started good, and then it just didn’t work. I mean, I love her, she rocks it, she’s the real fuckin’ deal. There’s no fake ‘I wanna be a punk’; that’s why I wanted to work with her. But as well, when we did it, we did the track about 8 months ago and when it came back to do more work on it, she was all stressed with her own record and she had just done the track with Iggy Pop and stuff like that. So she couldn’t find the time to come over and do some more work on the track, so then what we had from the session just didn’t fit in well with where I wanted to go. So that one didn’t work. “

By the way, it’s quite likely that the untitled punk tune in AONO (Demo Mix) is just a part of this unfinished work!

Memphis Bells

Memphis Bells was raw and untitled at the time and also appeared on AONO (Demo Mix).


Design


 
In general, AONO (Demo Mix) is not only interesting for the music itself – it also contains a lot of exclusive visual content that was also prepared for the design of the album, which never saw the light of day in its entirety…

All this huge amount of work was done by the famous British designer Jimmy Turrell, whom we have mentioned several times in our previous articles.

After Turrell, barely out of university, did the cover artwork for Baby’s Got A Temper at the very beginning of his career, Liam Howlett invited him to work on the design concept for an entire album. It was a job that kept Jimmy busy for a year and a half. He produced over 500 cover designs, many of which ended up in the video for the demo mix: it was probably animated by the Rockstar headed by Eugene Riecansky, along with Turrell.

It is also interesting to note that 2 years before the release of the AONO Demo Mix, a slightly different, more aggressive version of this video was leaked online. It was originally prepared for a certain XL Recordings conference in 2003, where The Prodigy’s plans and their forthcoming album were probably discussed. Various edits of the video were available on Turrell’s Safeplace website and various Rockstar social media platforms (YouTube, Vimeo and others). We have remastered and re-edited this video, choosing the best quality frames and using one of Liam’s unreleased loops from that time as the background music.

Jimmy Turrell (2022): “I felt like a bit of a student just messing around with stuff, but this thing was going to a be a huge release. I’d almost done about 500 different covers. But one day I got a call from XL Recordings and they said ‘Man, we’ve had somebody else working on that job, y’know what I mean’… I was like ‘Wow!’, my life felt into pieces and I couldn’t believe it. For a couple of weeks I was on a great downer, I had a real crunch. Y’know, blank pages totally occupied my life, I had a total block on creating stuff and had been in a same loop of creating these The Prodigy covers.”

Screenshots from the collaboration between Jimmy Turrell and Rockstar (2003)

Nevertheless, the crisis was a major turning point in Turrell’s career, and he now remembers it with deep gratitude. It had a huge impact on him: if you look at Jimmy’s Instagram, you can easily see how some of those ideas and designs from 2002-2003 are still used from time to time in his work today. He is not shy about talking about it and is really proud of what he was able to create during that time.

Screenshots from the collaboration between Jimmy Turrell and Rockstar (2003)

Jimmy Turrell (2022): I look back now, and like… I found the old Prodigy folder that I was doing, I was cleaning up the studio, and there’s so much in it, you won’t believe! […] Maybe four or five years ago, [I looked at it and] was like ‘Shit, man, that was so important that it happened to me!’. It gave me an aesthetic, getting back to the idea of like waking up in the morning thinking ‘That’s crap, that’s good, that’s crap’ [while sorting out the artworks]. That all came through the 500 Prodigy covers that I did. Looking now at them, there’s two or three ones in there that definitely could have been a cover. Brilliant, a really good cover.

 

But, you know what, the dude who did the cover, yeah, I thought that was a really good cover. I’m not bitter about that all, you know, it’s probably better than I did. I think they came what a learning curve is. What a briliant thing to have rather than just being ‘Yknow mate, that’s great, everything is great that you do’, — no, you need to have a horrific feeling in your life to be successful in any way, I really believe that.”

Screenshots from the collaboration between Jimmy Turrell and Rockstar (2003)

Liam later spoke warmly of Turrell’s work in an interview with Neko. At some point in 2003, Howlett gave up on loads of Jimmy’s ideas and brought in other INTRO UK designers to work on the cover. And a few years later, by a funny coincidence, it turned out that similar windmill visuals were being used by Gorillaz! Their music video for Feel Good Inc was released in 2005.

Visuals by Jimmy Turrell. Screen grab from AONO (Demo Mix)

Neko: What else is on that demo mix?

 

Liam: Just bits and pieces from the very early stages of recording the album. All these visuals, they were done at that point as well. We had this guy Jimmy, who also did the BGAT artwork, he had all these really cool visuals, but his end result for the cover didnt cut it for me, it wasnt quite right.

 

He had all those windmill ideas, and then to my fucking horror the Gorillaz had that windmill thing. Because I thought that was a really cool thing, we had this dude, that had a windmill on his head, a mad character. We might bring that back, cause he was really cool. So if people wonder what those windmills are, theyre from that period.

And in the near future, in 2004, the band’s most underrated album finally began to take shape, bringing The Prodigy back to the stage and giving Liam Howlett true inspiration, but disappointing some of the loyal fans who had been waiting for The Fat Of The Land ‘Part 2’…

Headmaster: SIXSHOT, SPLIT
Additional thanks to: Jimmy Turrell


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