The beat goes on, and on, in that vast, ever-morphing array of styles lumped together as electronica. But even the most devout have to admit techno's been in a funk for years, as if bummed that it failed to conquer the world after its commercial breakthrough seven years ago. How, then, to resuscitate a genre that promised the future but seems programmed in the past?
For the Prodigy, the answer lies in pretending it still is 1997. After a lengthy layoff punctuated by one forgettable single, Liam Howlett has revived the band that gave electronica one of its few hits (''Firestarter'') and few stars (Mohawked gargoyle Keith Flint). Frontman Flint is gone, but Howlett's infatuation with maximum-overdrive big beats and fire-alarm chaos endures on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned; his tracks are on perpetual orange-level alert. Opting for various singers, Howlett scores with Juliette Lewis and Kool Keith, who are appropriate sonic barkers. But after such an extended hiatus, one expects more from a Prodigy album than ''Firestarter'' knockoffs like ''Get Up Get Off,'' which encases Twista in techno-metal sludge. It wasn't Howlett's fault that Flint became the voice and face of the band, upending techno's emphasis on music and crowd over celebrity. But you still miss the demonic elf.