It was hard to tell if the renaissance The Prodigy experienced via Invaders Must Die spoke more to the rave generation’s raving children embracing their inner rave or whether it was simply an inspired re-finding of Liam Howlett’s mojo. Either way, the Essex collective hadn’t been in the public’s face as much since the commercial heyday which followed the release of 1997’s chart-topping Fat Of The Land.
Howlett has always been The Prodigy and vice versa, such that No Tourists is, as usual, very much the producer’s record, although vocalist/character players Keith Flint and Maxim – so integral to their stadium-friendly live performances – remain on the payroll to keep up posse-type appearances.
It’s this orientation which dominates the form and structure of the group’s seventh album, an amalgam of booming techno ephemera, siren vamps, come ups and scuzzy shit designed to put the listener straight into a sweaty, mad for it crowd all high on more than just a good time. Howlett is if nothing else wise enough to know that the audience for his music has certain demands; the helium MC and stomping thrash of Light Up The Sky are almost part of a contract which exists between the two parties, even if suspiciously it sounds like a cheesy amalgam of Firestarter and Out Of Space.
That said, if they liked that then they’ll love No Tourists. Although there’s retro energy and pupil-dilating grime in abundance, back in this dimension it’s a record which takes few liberties with a well-established way of working, the 3 a.m. exhortations to ‘turn the flame higher’ on We Live Forever being precisely the sort of theatre that everyone’s here for.
Howlett has described that feeling of self-abandonment as being at the album’s core, the No Tourists ethic being one where to enter into its chamber needs total commitment. In places that jars, especially on the title track’s Bond theme urbanity and on the jingle friendly non sequiturs of Champions Of London (London to Brixton – the friction!), a track which, despite everyone’s best efforts, has all the intensity of getting a bus. And whilst most of us would get no joy from being so disrespectful to one of the county’s institutions, tourism is very much what the experience has become about, not just for those who grew up with its thrills in dingy warehouses, but contemporarily for the lean back generation of now, dudes who collect cool when it suits them; this truth has always been that The Prodigy were never designed to be here for a long time, just a good one.
Not, of course, that the band have ever stood up and wanted to be understood at anything other than a purely superficial level, and whilst nothing here reaches the nostalgic zeitgeist they dialled up so brilliantly on Invaders Must Die, opener Need Some1 has the aggression necessary while Timebomb Zone, heavily loaded with archetypal noise as it is – sirens, diva samples – is a reminder that once they used to fill dancefloors as well as mosh pits.
If that sounds like the work of a franchise caught between urges, it doesn’t quite tell No Tourists’ story, a record made primarily to ink in some new jams onto a festival setlist. It’s The Prodigy at far from their maximum potency but still dealing the blows like they mean them – and as long as we keep loving that, they’ll be around to dish it out.