Classic Rock Review

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Art Of Noise Below The Waste (1989)


Judging by the few bits of information I’ve managed to gather on this album, it’s not exactly occupying any of the top slots on the “Best of AON” list by any of their admirers, and it’s not difficult to see why.

If Who’s Afraid? represented the band in the days of their hooliganish youth, In Visible Silence saw them as slightly more responsible twenty-plus-year olds, and In No Sense presented them as almost ridiculously mature, ultra-serious philosophers of avant-pop culture, then Below The Waste is senility at work. Restrained, free from excesses, heavily influenced by both world music and the ever-growing ambient scene, it is the quintessential antithesis to everything that was Who’s Afraid?.

But goddammit, I like it – to the point of declaring it my second favourite AON record. If you’re looking for innovation and revolution, start looking elsewhere; and, come to think of it, it would be hard to imagine AON achieving anything truly revolutionary after shaking our worlds with their debut. They did try, that’s for sure, but it was nowhere near as funny or as exciting. On Below The Waste, they don’t even try.

Yet calling this record a disillusioned or uninspired sequel to the overblown In No Sense wouldn’t be exactly right either; this is not an “obligatory” sequel, nor do I feel any particular lack of inspiration. What I do feel is a sense of ‘getting back to normal’. From challenging, but essentially meaningless (both intellectually and emotionally) collages, Dudley & Co. move back to a more basic style of musicmaking, where each composition, be it innovative or conservative, is supposed to serve some particular purpose. And they stay there.

And it’s not a magnificent record, but it’s a well done one. The single here was ‘Yebo!’, an anthemic techno-meets-African-beat stomper on which they actually collaborated with African musicians; personally I find it as solid as anything they’d done earlier. Danceable, catchy, and – to our uncivilized European ears – quite funny. As far as its spirituality is concerned, hey, I’ll leave that up to your personal taste; my impression is that AON’s proto-techno noises don’t detract from the African essence one bit, nor do the moderately used generic Eighties’ metallic guitars. Later on, world music makes a return in the three minute ‘Chang Gang’, which is actually more techno than ethnic, but still manages to make sense.

What makes it hard to write about this stuff is that most of it is just ‘mood music’, not necessarily ambient, but very practical-oriented, if you know what I mean. ‘Yebo!’ might just be the only track on here displaying any kind of ambition. Elsewhere, ‘Catwalk’ merges a bit of ethnic chanting with a – for the most part – discofied backing track (disco bass, funky guitar, orchestration a la Saturday Night Fever, all the necessary requirements), meaning it’s totally inessential; but it does have a good melody. ‘Dan Dare’ looks like it wants to sound anthemic and universalistic, but never really takes off the ground or presents the listener with a glorious climax – instead, it just works as something you can comfortably relax to on a quiet sunny morning while sipping your Martinis on the front porch of your cozy little villa outside Honolulu, with the waves quietly rolling upon the golden beach and all… uh, sorry, wrong contingent here. Never mind.

I still have no idea why they decided to cover the James Bond theme – maybe the relative success of ‘Dragnet’ convinced them the trick was worth repeating. Well… on a certain level of perception, there’s nothing wrong with it. I likes me the James Bond theme, and if it comes to actually owning it on a non-Bond related soundtrack, Art of Noise certainly qualify as a good choice for performing the shit.

Again, there’s always the question of artistic integrity: obviously, you don’t need to be The Art Of Noise in order to cover the James Bond theme, especially not when you’re doing it in such a perfunctory and almost by-the-book way, with not even a single “can I say something?” along the way. But remember, we have already agreed to accept that this band here has nothing to do with the ‘classic’ Art of Noise, haven’t we? That it’s just a bunch of solid entertainers making intricate and entertaining, but hardly challenging music? Right? What do you mean, we haven’t? Just how much attention are you willing to spare whilst reading these reviews?

The only other track that got them some attention was ‘Island’, a sprawling New Age-y instrumental with lotsa soothing orchestration and pianos that sounded like it belonged in some sappy, but stylish sentimental drama along the lines of Sleepless In Seattle or whatever the equivalent of that movie was in 1989. Heck, this whole album sounds like a goddamn soundtrack, and I guess had it been a real soundtrack, it would have been received with a little bit more warmth. But I’ve always treated soundtracks with justice, I think (that is, every time I actually allowed myself to review a soundtrack, I mean), and this pseudo-soundtrack should make no exception.

In particular, I quite like ‘Island’. And I can even directly name one of the main reasons why I like ‘Island’: its stripped-down atmosphere. Yes, it’s sappy muzak, but it boasts none of these hoo-haaing “angelic” synthesizers that are the main plague of adult contemporary, and the main soft-jazzy piano theme is so fresh and so pretty I don’t see why I shouldn’t be aesthetically pleased with it.

Finally, if we’re gonna build our case on diversity, let’s not forget the “brutal” menace of ‘Back To Back’, with its gruff metallic riffs and pompous orchestral punches. Ain’t really memorable either, but in between the ethno-techno ‘Chang Gang’ and the Caribbean-flavoured ‘Spit’, it really works. As does the lightweight waltz of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (!). Tee hee. In short, hey, I like this record. In fact, I can’t imagine how an album like this, with modest goals like these, could sound any better.

And it was an unremarkable, but honest way for the band to go out – after all, where are you supposed to be headed for after you’ve reached the senility stage?

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Below The Waste | | Leave a comment