When an artist has released a vast body of work over multiple decades, engaged multiple generations of fanbases, and driven their genre forward for so long, it is hard to know what to expect from a new album. Was the genre-bending production just the music that came to them at the time, or is there a commitment to experimentation and subversion beyond the first few albums? For the Prodigy, lead by Liam Howlett the answer is somewhat clear. On the band’s seventh studio album, No Tourists, the Prodigy reach for the familiar and inject it with a dose of 2018.
A classic Prodigy record, No Tourists is jam-packed with energizing breakbeats, punk-leaning vocal hooks, and synth and guitar work that could fill the largest of warehouses. In this regard, the album is not a departure from anything the group has put out in the past. Big, high-energy sounds are what put the Prodigy on the map so many years ago. So as a listener with an array of old Prodigy tracks in my music library and a recently purchased vinyl single from 1991, what keeps bringing me back to this album? Why, when this album seems to be textbook Prodigy, do I not toss it to the side for the iconic originals? The answer lies in the production.
While the boisterous sound of Howlett’s production is nothing new, there is something cleaner and more refined about the entire sound of the album. Even compared to their 2015 offering The Day Is My Enemy, the samples are crisper, and the bass lines straddle that perfect line between distortion and clarity. Take the album’s lead single and opening track, “Need Some1.” With sloppier production, a track with a big, slow, hip-hop breakbeat, a variety of vocal samples, and explosive synths may have sounded cluttered and disorienting – but Howlett creates the perfect amount of space and depth to make the track work. And while an all out assault of noise may have been what drove the Prodigy’s success on Experience and The Fat of the Land, the musical landscape has changed. The Prodigy’s audience is no longer blasting tracks on massive speakers in their garage or at warehouse raves – this is an album for the headphone generation, exemplified greatly by tracks like “Boom Boom Tap” and “Light Up the Sky.” Sounds from every sector of the EQ spectrum shine through, with intricate synth work not feeling overpowered by the forceful low end. With the streaming economy making on-the-go listening more accessible, a crowded project full of distortion and a less precise mix could lead to an album that does not connect in this new era of music consumption.
While the album is sonically solid, No Tourists does not push the boundaries of what can be expected from the Prodigy. There is a small part of me that is disappointed that Howlett and the band did not take the group in any new direction. After seven albums, I (perhaps foolishly) expected a bit of deviation from the stylistic norm. However, a standard offering from the Prodigy is not anything to be scoffed at. I’d take No Tourists over ‘The Prodigy goes festival trap’ any day of the week. And when albums like Tom Morello’s feature-laden The Atlas Underground are missing the mark without a distinct sound or direction, a cohesive yet familiar project from the big beat progenitors may be what we needed. We are just lucky that, when it comes to the Prodigy, the familiar still hits hard.