There’s a telling detail buried in the album artwork of ‘No Tourists’, The Prodigy’s seething seventh album, which shows no signs of the Essex ravers mellowing out. It’s in the destination sign of a London bus that lurks in the shadows: “Four Aces, Dalston”. That was the tiny venue in which frenetic rapper Maxim, anarchic punk vocalist Keith Flint and brooding songwriter Liam Howlett played their first show back in 1990, for the princely sum of £100.
28 years later, and ‘No Tourists’ – somewhat counter-intuitively – finds them sounding more violent and fearsome than ever. The album’s not quite a return to Prodigy’s early days – there’s so much more menace here than borderline-novelty singles such as 1991’s ‘Charly’ ever possessed – but it does take touchstones from their previous records and beat you over head with them. This is the kind of record you can only make nearly three decades at the frontline of dance music.
The deranged, head-spinning synth of ‘We Live Forever’ comes laced with a scything vocal sample that recalls the one that dipped and dived throughout 1992’s bashment-influenced ‘Out Of Space’, while the garrotting guitar line that punctuates ‘Light Up The Sky’ nods to 1997 rap-rock banger ‘Breathe’, taken from classic crossover album ‘The Fat Of The Land’. This is not nostalgia; it’s The Prodigy utilising every weapon in their arsenal to commit their sonic assault.
As Flint alluded to in their recent NME interview, Prodigy’s music is mainly about massive beats and shouted, minimalist vocals – it’s pretty simple, really – but here that simplicity is (dare we say it?) touched with genius. Howlett, the group’s songwriter, is an indisputable master of his craft and demonstrates stunning prowess across these 10 tracks. It’s the smartest dumb record you’ll hear this year. The layers of vocals, howling synths and clattering beats on ‘We Live Forever’, the marching build-up and the pitiless drop – this is the stuff of crazed nightmares.
Genius occasionally takes leave – the repeated lyrics “Boom-boom tap / Ba-ba-boom tap” become pretty annoying pretty quickly on, er, ‘Boom Boom Tap’, for instance. But for the most part, this is a dizzying record, bristling with composure and confrontation. That ‘Light Up The Sky’ guitar riff creeps up like a rusty chain looped around your waist: try to wriggle free and you’ll be sawn in two. ‘Champions of London’ is the hardest The Prodigy have ever sounded.
Newark horrorcore punks Ho99o9 turn up on the lithe, grisly ‘Fight Fire With Fire’, an indication, perhaps, that Prodigy’s fingers remain on the pulse after all these years. But they don’t need the endorsement of newer musicians: this is a brilliant – and brilliantly brutal – collection; pulsing dance music that, for all its heaviness and techno sensibilities, retains a glimmer of pop accessibility because it’s so well pieced together and just so much fucking fun. Viva The Prodigy.
This review was originally published in November 2018