Published on November 12th, 2018 | by Jeff Thiessen0
The Prodigy – No Tourists
There’s nothing new on The Prodigy’s latest album of explosive body shakers, ‘No Tourists,’ but it delivers bangers. The question is: does anyone still care?
If The Prodigy proved one thing, it’s while the road of excess doesn’t exactly lead to immortality for the jilted generation, it can sure take you further than the road of precision. From the platinum selling ‘Fat of the Land’ and onward, Liam Howlett went full steam ahead into bombed out territory occupied by drug proselytism, pure anti-authoritarian rantery, playful rhythms, and of course the ecstatic Keith Flint poetic shrieks. All of this didn’t add up to much more than an exhilarating stoned head-gush, especially with the post-Fat releases, but in the process The Prodigy cemented themselves as proper aggressors of dance music. The anarchic howl of Atari Teenage Riot may have its roots in Gramsci readings, but The Prodigy wrote songs circling the ghosts of Johnny Thunders — guess which one died a swift death which one shared a Lollapalooza stage with Snoop Dogg?
Times were good indeed. But that was then. Now, The Prodigy continue to find themselves in a strange and lonely land, one they’ve been in basically trying to navigate since 2009’s ‘Invader’s Must Die’ album. The problem (or challenge, depending on how nice you wanna be) they’ve been facing for about a decade now, is this ruckus they peddle is no longer one accelerated by an attitude-era sneer Malcolm McLaren would applaud. I mean it’s still kind of there, but it’s just nobody cares anymore. It’s hard to imagine anybody, fan or otherwise, not being acutely aware just how big a factor their rock n’ roll crossover appeal was. When ‘Fat of the Land’ moved over ten million units, Howlett openly railed against electronica music being frequently described as “headphone songs.” Instead, he was the architect of music for people who didn’t even own headphones, people who put all their money into car stereos and ketamine. By and large The Prodigy was a band, not an electronic artist — at least, that’s what they wanted us to think and for the most part we accepted it, ‘cause it made those big beats sound and feel even bigger.
But today as I listen to No Tourists, I’m feeling the exact same things as I felt when I blasted their previous 2015 release The Day is My Enemy at the gym (let’s be honest here, Prodigy migrated a long time ago from pop’s lunatic fringe to treadmill music): this is a king without a kingdom. The sheer mechanical power is here, as is those fierce, winding rhythms and wails from a dystopian future The Prodigy used to cheerfully warn us about. But the effect is certainly dulled as their portentous future has become our present way ahead of schedule. We’ve all moved on and the stark reality we absorb daily evokes much more tangible doom and gloom then their end of the world party jangle tunes. Simply put, it’s getting harder and harder to listen to their music with a straight face. The wild kinetic stomp Howlett so masterfully shoved down our throats now feels like that guy in the party who stays too long, not necessarily cause he’s having so much fun, but instead ‘cause he knows he can’t go home, or maybe even doesn’t know where his home is.
Your enjoyment of No Tourists depends entirely how much you agree or disagree with my assessment of The Prodigy’s existence in 2018. The music here is updated, it’s not a case of just swapping out old rosters with new ones like we’ve seen in some of the laziest Madden entries for example. But this is still business as usual. Other than the last and best cut ‘Give Me a Signal’ which boasts a wild journey and well-earned dramatic payoff, there are handrails on both sides of every song here. Prodigy was always cautious music but the constant teeth gnashing was very effective in making us forget this, at least temporarily. At their absolute best The Prodigy’s madness was never transcendent but they were certainly in rare air when it came to milking their jet lagged eurotrash image, and their primo seducto-schlock songs effortlessly followed in lockstep. We bought in. There are days when I still feel the random dopey urge to buy in again, and on those days ‘Breathe’ sounds downright imposing. But ultimately the tour Howlett takes us on here is one we’ve been on before, and it’s not as fun these days when you know the call to arms that felt so revolutionary (in a fun, not important way) was basically just am elaborate gimmick designed to make the band sound better live. ‘Boom Boom Bap’ for example, is a good Prodigy song. But it cannot be accurately described as a good 2018 Prodigy song with its cringefest “Fuck you!” chant, one that basically would’ve been at home on any Prodigy album but this one. It’s almost like Howlett hasn’t noticed we no longer can even superficially subscribe to his silly sonic arms race, or maybe he just doesn’t care cause war sounds are the most fun. These were songs almost implicitly designed for huge gigs, but The Prodigy really doesn’t play very many shows these days, so where does that leave No Tourists for the rest of us who can’t see the invasion in a live setting?
It’s also time for them to put dancer/vocalist Keith Flint out to pasture. ‘Champions of London’ is definitive proof his arrival on ‘Fat of the Land’ was a welcome one, although one not designed to be carried with the band into this brave new world. The song is one of the album’s absolute bangers, but his presence completely takes us out of the hedonistic fun and into a John Lydon Vegas residency. I can get on board with a lot of The Prodigy’s clumsy embrace of the ultimate headbanger’s rave (that doesn’t actually exist of course), but I can no longer sit idly by and pretend Flint isn’t a very unwelcome distraction whenever he shows up.
As negative as I may be coming off here, truthfully, I’m actually trying to find a way to like this contextually, as I think by this point in the band’s career we’re left with no choice. Too much has changed in the last couple decades. Listening to ‘No Tourists’ in a vacuum and liking it sure is easy but also sort of feels like a greasy cheatcode, and actually one that will delegate their music strictly to spin classes and festivals. Let’s not do that. I’m just trying to be honest when I say I did legitimately struggle while listening to ‘No Tourists,’ even when the air raid sirens were at their most loud and effective, constantly asking myself, “Do we really need this anymore?”
Well the answer is yes, but in the same way we need big gulps or Nintendo classics. If you accept by this point Howlett is basically just a rocking-chair mystic, conjuring myth and pandemonium out of his most cheesed out operatic notions, then yes, The Prodigy is absolutely needed. The songs on ‘No Tourists,’ I mean I don’t really have to go into them, do I? There is nothing worth dissecting, ultimately the beats and hooks aren’t as big, but that’s more of a reflection of diminishing returns than any aesthetic shift Howlett and co. may have put forth here. Ultimately, they all have the same combination Prodigy has employed since their seminal ‘Fat of the Land’ release in 1997: a blasphemer’s sense of humour and a phoney radical’s sense of unrest. Put together, things get noisy, but is it good? Was it ever good? Well, it was easier to believe it was at least fun twenty years ago, so the question now seems to be, “Do you want to believe?” I’m not here to push you in one direction or another, but ultimately the belief may come down to how many of you still have those giant subwoofers in the back of your car.