Big, stupid beats have been this group’s speciality ever since The Fat of the Land managed to erase the memory of the multilayered Music for the Jilted Generation for an entire new generation of fans. Which is not to be rude – there’s definitely a place in this world for big, stupid beats. And The Prodigy are good at it: “Firestarter” still whips up a blaze at club nights when it’s played.
Sit down and listen to The Prodigy in your living room though and you have a problem – without the giddy invention and dizzying array of sound effects and melodies that made Music for the Jilted Generation so powerful, monotony can quickly set in when listening to the rest of their repertoire.
No Tourists is no different in this respect. It’s a lean 38 minutes, yet the lack of dynamics can make it grow repetitive and wearisome, and feel much longer. Electronica often has this problem, with its lasered focus on beats and production techniques over song craft. But none of its subgenres have that problem quite as badly as Big Beat. Loud and proudly stupid, which is admirable, it also tends to bludgeon its way into tedium, which is not.
So play one song at a time from No Tourists at one hour intervals throughout the day and it’ll kickstart the next 57 minutes into action, without wearying your bones or your eardrums. Yet listen to it all in one go and you have a problem; it’s like trying to race down a tub of ice cream in 5 minutes. Your body gets too much of a rush and can no longer process it or enjoy it.
Over at Pitchfork they observed how this album sounds pretty much the same as all their old stuff, and “We Live Forever” in particular certainly sounds like a 21st century retread of the still-fresh “Out of Space”. When you press play on the first track of No Tourist it can’t be mistaken for the work of any other band, that’s true; their sonic identity is now as set in stone as AC/DC’s.
Listen to them not giving a damn, though; I make the comparison to AC/DC because like that band they seem to compose songs and albums now with the sole aim of providing live material for their sets, which will mostly play to the legions of loyal fans who want them to stay the same forever. If it’s got a big beat to mosh to, those fans will be happy. “Don’t mess with the formula” is the unwritten contract between The Prodigy and their faithful followers. “We’re here, it’s now, we live forever!” goes the mantra in “We Live Forever”. And they mean it: because death = the acceptance of change, “living forever” = never changing, which has become both their philosophy and their sound.
So they try to write another arsonist’s manifesto with “Fight Fire With Fire”, which surprisingly is nearly as exciting as the classic “Firestarter”. It’s just as dumb: loud electronic music for jocks to get drunk and swing their dicks around to. But hell, if we want music to be as utopian as it claims to be, we gotta have music for jocks to boogie to too – as long as they’re not smacking any bitches up, which is sometimes a concern with this band’s fans.
The way The Prodigy have courted controversy over the years has been as problematic as any rock and metal act you’d care to mention (hello again, AC/DC). But you’ll be pleased to hear that No Tourists is pretty clean stuff, all healthily raucous party energy and all-clear of misogynist asshattery. They’re “Champions of London”, not champions of smacking bitches up this time around. That track has been interpreted to have a vague political intention in the age of Brexit, a celebration of multicultural England, but I wouldn’t read that much into it. It’s just an excuse to dance around, as is the rest of the album. Which allows you to kick back and enjoy it – or more likely kick off and enjoy it: tracks like “Boom Boom Tap” do what they say on the tin, only with bigger, badder booms and triple-speed, tornado-like taps to keep the musical whirlwind spinning. Tracks like that have an exhilaration to it, once you embrace the stupidity. Which you should: stupidity can be liberating in small doses. Just don’t go overboard.