Review With their combination of production wizardry, experimentalism and ability to make a hummable tune out of just about anything.
The Art Of Noise were as pretentious as their name suggests, but a whole lot more fun. This compilation takes in all the essential early stuff the group did on their original label ZTT – not only the whole of their first proper LP “Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?” but also the pick of their debut EP “Into Battle” and a couple of (excellent) 12″ mixes of the classic “Moments In Love”.
The Fairlight sampler was the group’s instrument of choice (indeed the Art Of Noise were one of the first groups to bring the sampler to public attention) and their use of “found sounds” is ingenious and often surprisingly danceable, particularly on the breakout hits “Close To The Edit” and “Moments In Love”.
The fact that the latter track has appeared on a million “moods”-type compilation albums is testament to its sheer loveliness, but it is all too easy to forget what a brilliantly-constructed piece of music, and of art, it really is.
Hearing it alongside a selection of The Art Of Noise’s other work gives a whole new perspective on it, and reminds you that there is an underlying sinister-ness to it, all clanking prison chains and insistent “now! now! now!” hectoring.
This combination of beauty and cruelty is a common Art Of Noise trick, employed to good effect on tracks like the atmospheric “Realisation” and military-themed “In The Army Now” and “A Time For Fear”. Even their catchiest moment, “Close To The Edit”, misquotes poet Robert Browning’s “Home Thoughts From Abroad” in a distinctly unsettling way.
But lest anyone should think the Art Of Noise were all about darkness, it should be pointed out that there’s a lot of light here too – the joyful “Snapshot” (present in extended form) and the wonderful, endlessly inventive “Beatbox Diversion One” will put a smile on anyone’s face and a tapping in anyone’s feet.
On the down side, this material is nearly 20 years old now, and it shows. The experimental pop noise of yesteryear cannot be expected to still sound state-of-the-Art two decades on. Even so, it’s hard not to marvel at the imagination that went into this music. It may sound a little dated in the 21st century, but the beats still work, and when you hear “Daft” you know that what you’re getting is the true, original article.
Review There has never been another group like the Art of Noise, and all their best work is on this CD.
It includes the whole first album, with the original long versions of “Close To The Edit” and “Beatbox”, as well as the rare EP “Into Battle”, plus the lush remixes of “Moments In Love” that were originally released as a 12″ single. Sadly, the group rapidly went into artistic stagnation from the second album onwards (covering “Peter Gunn” was never going to rock the world), as they merely repeated their unique sound to less effect every time.
Even worse were the techno makeovers of their music in the 90’s, which bore no relation to the original style. Their remarkable and innovative genius is completely showcased in this must-have package.
Review This is an essential for the AoN fans of the older Zang Tumm Tumb days….it is actually a conglomeration of three records: Into Battle, Who’s Afraid, and the Moments In Love maxi-EP containing four versions of the fabled track.
I find it extremely convenient to have all these wonderful and timeless tracks on one CD, but I have one major quibble which prevents me from giving it all five stars: Why the absence of the original Beat Box? Since Into Battle is no longer available in the states, it is quite difficult to find the original version of Beat Box, and are left instead with the silly and long-winded “Diversion One” which is found on damn near every AoN compilation I’ve seen.
Luckily I have Into Battle on vinyl, but it would have been nice to have this one on digital. Overall, a must-have for the conniseur of fine electronic music and art-rock. The Art Of Noise meddle…the Art Of Noise bang and clang….. Between Jest And Earnest….between love and war….between now and then……Hummmmm along with the AoN!
Okay, I’m cheating meself (and you) a little bit out here, as this is really a compilation.
However, everybody knows that dealing with experimental bands’ catalogs is just such a tremendous pain in the rear end you just have to allow yourself some license. Daft basically combines the majority of Who’s Afraid with re-makes, little variations on the themes, and, most important, tracks taken off the band’s debut EP, Into Battle With The Art Of Noise. Since the EP is hardly available in any form, it’s kinda just that I review at least this compilation instead.
And I understand it makes this sequence slightly anachronistic, but pardon you me, it wasn’t yours truly who started fucking around with chronology in the first place. If I were to exercise my will over all the albums ever released, I would have prohibited this lightheaded approach to compiling material, along with stupidly concocted boxsets. Unfortunately, we live in a free world.
Now, anyway, this thing starts off with a shorter, seven-minute reworking of ‘Moments In Love’ (subtitled “beaten” on my edition – why?!), which I actually much prefer to the ten-minute version. It’s shorter, yet at the same time manages to be more dynamic than the long version – with a graceful, romantic, New Age-y piano intro, after which relaxed ethnic (yep, with congos and bongos and shmongos) percussion very, very slowly starts introducing the main theme – so there is some kind of development, instead of the never-ending monotonousness of the big version.
In this way, the prettiness of the theme can’t be “beaten” into the ground as easily as before. And unless my memory fails me, there’s actually more different sonic patterns that we meet on the way in this version. Then they also reprise the theme at the end of the album, where it is called ‘(Three Fingers) Of Love’, slowed down, and given additional tasty piano treatment – actually, the piano playing here is absolutely gorgeous, I only wish I knew who’s playing exactly – and additional goofy heavenly whispers, a little a la 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ (or a la generic adult contemporary – these happen to be the same thing, except that ‘I’m Not In Love’ only turned out generic in retrospect).
As for the few tracks off the debut EP, they are, of course, in the main vein of Who’s Afraid, but perhaps even more radical in a certain “youthful enthusiasm” way. ‘The Army Now’ simply pushes the sampling practice over the top – as they loop the ‘in the army now’ and ‘tra-la tra-la tra-la la’ vocal bits over and over in all kinds of different ways, you almost end up getting a picture of some overecstatic teen goofily pushing the keys while sitting over some hi-tech music-making program on his PC, making fun of all of his .wavs as he goes along. Except that, of course, in 1983 it must have taken hours and hours and hours of work to cut and paste all those bits. Anyway, the effect is hilarious even nowadays.
The short excerpt ‘Donna’ isn’t particularly interesting… even if it does manage to grasp the essence of trance, rave and house within its minute and a half as good as anything – all the while sampling what sounds like it could be a tiny bit of Dave Gilmour’s echoey guitar from ‘Run Like Hell’.
However, ‘Flesh In Armour’ is another terrific highlight, obviously influenced by industrial, as it’s arguably the loudest percussion-based instrumental that The Art Of Noise ever did. Of course, in direct opposition to standard industrial work as, say, pioneered by Einstürzende Neubauten, they don’t spend much time banging and clanging – it’s all sampled and looped and thrown together in different ways. But hey, that helps make it louder when necessary! It’s a fun little piece of work for sure, and very “militaristic sounding”, I might say – fully redeeming the Into Battle monicker.
In fact, it’s interesting how these tracks are so creepy and gloomy: one thing that doesn’t seem to stick too much to Art of Noise is “darkness”. Madness (of a positive character), hilariousness, beauty, moodiness, yes, but they never really tried to scare you in any way on Who’s Afraid. Here, there are brief moments of genuine creepiness. I wonder – could we call their early career a “gradual evolution from darkness to light”, then? Nah, that would probably be too assumptuous…
Elsewhere, all the tracks seem to be more or less the same as on Who’s Afraid (I don’t have the song lengths at hand, but supposedly ‘Snapshot’ is a whole minute longer on here, not that it really matters), so count this as, what, a review of one remix, one variation, and three additional tracks. The resulting picture, of course, is fuller than the 1984 album, so Daft – available in print – makes for a perfect introduction to the early Art Of Noise sound. And since that’s all that is needed for the review, let me just ramble on for a few seconds about the essence of this sound…
I guess it’s fairly easy to suppose that the original band did not include mass adoption of their ‘music’ into their possible plans. I mean, heck, even today this particular brand of sampling looks like it belongs alongside Centre Pompidou-style modern art or sumpthin’. Yet somehow, where Centre Pompidou-style modern art still has nothing more than obscure – and questionable – museum value, the music that these quirky guys pioneered was quicky adapted by the masses just as, say, Kraftwerk’s oeuvres were rendered accessible and popular with the upcoming of synth-pop.
If anything, it just goes to show how there’s really just a tiny step between the “mainstream” and the “alternative” (or “inaccessible”, “elitist”, whatever). Heck, you think prog-era Genesis are for the select few? Well, how’s about Styx and Journey popularizing ’em? Einsturzende Neubauten may be unlistenable to the common ear, but dress their clanging up into just a wee bit more melodic kind of clothing and you have Depeche Mode. The difference is just so goddamn flimsy in so many cases that any attempts to build a firewall between the two opposites seems kind of ridiculous to me.
Sorry for the rant.
The album’s called Daft anyway, so if you think I’m an idiot, that would fit in quite naturally, wouldn’t it?