While there are no set rules defining what alternative music actually is, the degree to which some acts play fast and loose with any sort of distinction – to the point where any barriers separating the alternative from straight-up pop are torn down completely – is more than a bit cynical. It’s no secret that getting ahead in the industry is made all the easier by compromise wherever possible, but going so far that the act is simply being what they’re touted as the alternative to shows more of an appreciation for profit than fostering genuinely talent. As such, it’s strange that such practices haven’t been capitalised on with The Prodigy; after all, they’re almost unanimously accepted in the rock and metal world, and they’ve become a genuinely massive act over the decades to comfortably do well in whatever coverage they’re given. The truth is though, the only “marketable” aspect of The Prodigy is and always has been that crossover status rather than anything they’ve actually done to build it up, and that’s become part of the reason why the metal worked especially has been so accepting of them. The Fat Of The Land was a genuine game-changer, taking the big beat and rave music of the ‘90s and playing it so much harder and heavier, and with the benefit of controversy on their side through tracks like Firestarter and Smack My Bitch Up, the combination of that aggression and notoriety was a natural fit for the alternative scene back then, filled with weirdos and outcasts who would easily gravitate towards something like this.
Over time though, it feels like The Prodigy have become somewhat complacent in their role. Sure, they’ve attempted to keep their music as vital and visceral as possible by sharpening their sound and taking note of the modernity within electronic music, but that’s been successful to varying degrees at best, and given how much more difficult it is to truly shock nowadays, inertia seems to be the primary factor for their continued traction, especially considering how lacklustre the response to 2015’s The Day Is My Enemy was. With No Tourists though, inertia is less of a factor, replaced by just being plain inert. This certainly isn’t the acid-spitting Prodigy of The Fat Of The Land, ready to take on anyone who’d dare oppose their counterculture, but an older, more bloated incarnation trying to wear that disguise and not doing it much justice at all. It’s hardly all that revelatory given that this is a band of three men in the late forties and early fifties, but to see them put on the airs of vicious, violent force when they’re really just dragging themselves across the finish line is a depressing sight to behold.
And of course, age does play a considerable factor in why No Tourists doesn’t really work, particularly in the way that The Prodigy fall into the awkward middle ground of trying to keep their fire-starting image up while pulling it back for something with a bit less energy that’s perhaps representative of where they currently are. It’s no surprise that it doesn’t work very well either; there’s no tightness to tracks like Need Some1 and Light Up The Sky with percussion lines that have bombast but just seem to meander along, and the heavily-distorted guitars on the title track and Champions Of London really do begin to grate, particularly when they’re always buzzing away in the background. It’s the same holding pattern that The Prodigy’s modern output has often fallen in honestly, prioritising size over the palpable aggression that made their best work connect so emphatically, and it’s no surprise that when they do return to the rabid hardstyle production, it’s so much more appealing. Granted, some of that does come from outsourcing Fight Fire With Fire to Ho99o9 who’ve always worked better with the hip-hop production that this track offers, but on the likes of We Live Forever and Timebomb Zones, bringing back the crunchy rave beats and pitch-shifted female vocals, they’re blatant throwbacks to their ‘90s heyday, but it works because The Prodigy still have the capacity to bring that energy. It’s just barely ever shown, and No Tourists can plod along because of it.
It’s a similar case in the writing too, and even if electronic music in this vein really doesn’t need depth or profundity, The Prodigy have at least been capable to push what’s possible to its limit with the ire and bile that’s surrounded them since their inception, both coming from them and that they’ve been on the receiving end of. No Tourists, on the other hand, doesn’t feel nearly as impactful, giving that any thematic sphere around rising up and rebelling against social inequality is pared back enormously to buzzwords and phrases that can’t even muster a layered subtext. That’s something that The Prodigy have typically been good at too, yet Champions Of London and Give Me A Signal feel so flimsy in what they’re trying to convey. At least both Keith Flint and Maxim Reality both sound fine when they do step up to the microphone (though that’s not exactly often and it’s hardly a necessity to be a good singer with material like this), but it’s telling that they’re both handily shown up by both Ho99o9 and Barns Courtney, even if they too aren’t exactly given mountains to do.
But perhaps what ties all of these issues together is that, as an album, No Tourists just feels unnecessary. For an act once so reliant on a venomous mix of pure provocation and convincing way to convey it, this feels like The Prodigy playing it safe and tailoring themselves for a rock audience that may appreciate something like this more, instead of the electronic music that crossed over because it was so weird and wild. This just feels watered down and lacking in so much significant punch, basically the complete antithesis of what The Prodigy should be, and really only here to fill space and keep their names in people’s mouths. They don’t need to do that – they’ve got enough well-known material for that not to be an issue – but if it’s what they really want to do, it could’ve been more impressive than this.
For fans of: The Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, The Qemists
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘No Tourists’ by The Prodigy is out now on BMG Rights Management.