Mainstream success never seemed to sit especially well with the Prodigy main man Liam Howlett. After emerging with the rave classic Experience, solidifying their outsider status with the phenomenal breakbeat techno of Music For the Jilted Generation and hitting their commercial peak with the genre-defining, moral panic inducing Fat of the Land, Howlett had achieved more with three albums then, arguably, any electronic artist had managed ever. Understandably, Howlett seemed to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what the band had achieved. As a result, there was a considerable wait between Fat of the Land and follow-up album Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned as Howlett deliberated about which path to follow next. Eventually, deciding to jettison Keith Flint and Maxim to make an album that he hoped harked back to his early work, the resultant album was a directionless mess and something of an anomaly in the band’s career. The truth was that the band had traveled too far to ever, meaningfully return to their roots.
Since then, Howlett has hit on a formula that works for the band. On each album, Howlett has proven that he has an intuitive understanding of what the fans want; authentically confrontational big beat that recalls the various highlights of the bands long and storied career but with the focus always on how the songs will translate live. On new album No Tourists, Howlett has delivered an album for the fans. Whether that entry point was 2009’s Invaders Must Die or 1994’s Music For the Jilted Generation there is something on the album for every possible type of Prodigy fan.
The album explodes into life with the barnstorming, opening salvo of “Need Some1”. Built around the classic Prodigy ingredients of big beats, jackhammer drums, and a synth line that buzzes and shocks like a thrashing, stray power cable, it also includes a glorious Loleatta Holloway sample. It’s the type of perfectly judged sonic onslaught that is going to sound positively seismic when slotted into their live set. The same can be said of next track, “Light Up the Sky” which quickly detonates with slabs of noise, a pounding beat and the first reference to past glories in the form of the synth line borrowed from Music For the Jilted Generation’s “Voodoo People”.
Howlett has said in interviews for the album that he was keen to recall the classic Prodigy sound and on No Tourists, and there are other familiar reference points. On “We Live Forever” he samples “Critical Beatdown” by Ultramagnetic MC’s which he also stretched and warped on Experience classic “Out of Space”. With the briefest of respite from the shellacking of noise, Howlett sets synths racing to the summit until the drop hits like a sonic depth charge.
Featuring synths like circling jet fighters and a tumbling, “Kashmir” style string sample, “No Tourists” is another hostile call to arms. However, it is the following song “Fight Fire With Fire” that would be the ideal soundtrack to civil insurrection. Featuring visceral, alternative hip-hop group Ho99o9, it’s the point on the album when all of the confrontational sonic elements thrillingly marry together to create something that sounds genuinely dangerous and unpredictable; like there might be some bite to the bark.
The first half of No Tourists has to be stand up as the band’s most ferocious and hard-hitting to date with a dependable blitz of beats and jagged, crackling synths that will level the sweaty throngs of their crowd for years to come. For those looking to have a quick peek to see if there’s still plenty of the old Prodigy fire left, then the band confirm it on a blazing first half. However, it’s at this point that the quality dips with the inspired thrills fewer and further between with some songs getting by on sheer energy alone.
The subterranean swell of synths on “Timebomb Zone” evoke the edgy, rave origins of the band, sounding as if it was recorded in a dark and dingy warehouse. However, it quickly becomes rave by numbers as the sped up, high pitch vocal hook and the alarm sounds come across as a little over-cooked and try hard. The same criticism can be leveled at “Champions of London” with Keith Flint adding his best snarling punk vocals and Maxim chiming in with antagonistic shouts. However, with empty sloganeering lyrics like “Civil unrest / Grab the bulletproof vest” the song never achieves the riotous provocation it so clearly wants to induce, instead sounding a little too calculated.
Nevertheless, there are still moments of inspiration left on the album. With another smart vocal sample, Halloween synths and a muted guitar line that edges to the foreground, “Boom Boom Tap” is a lot more memorable. However, the cry of “fuck you” before the breakdown seems a little unnecessarily adolescent. Album closer “Give Me a Signal” is the one song on the second half of the album where Howlett sews all the sonic threads into a shiny new outfit. Full of punk potency and escalating, frantic techno synths it builds to a classic Prodigy rave-up.
When the band boil their sound to its core, base elements, the results are explosive. While there are enough reference points and touchstones on No Tourists to stir memories of the band’s entire career, there are incendiary moments that hit similar heights. By now, the band know what they do well and ably show that they still have plenty of petrol left in the can to throw on the fire.