Classic Rock Review

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Art Of Noise In No Sense? Nonsense? (1987)


Now this is not fair already. I loved them when they were hilarious and composition-oriented. I liked them when they were serious and composition-oriented. But now that they’re serious and oddbit-oriented, I find it damn hard to tolerate them. If Who’s Afraid was a gamble that actually paid off, then Nonsense! is a bluff so obvious that I find myself reaching for the candlestick.

They picked a Thickasabrickish approach with this one, streamlining all the tracks with practically no breaks between them (and the ones that are there are pretty blurry anyway), which essentially means that either you’re gonna have to attentively sit through this stuff several times with the track listing in your hands or you’re just gonna have to abandon hope and let it all stick together. I honestly chose the latter way after making the decision that I’d rather spend my time sorting out a few unclear click efflux correspondences between North Khoisan and South Khoisan dialects in the lateral/alveolar series – that is, doing at least something truly constructive. So excuse me if I only mention one or two titles here.

And excuse me if I put forward the hypothesis that choosing this particular approach for an album of sampling/techno experimentation was not a particularly sapient idea. Because, in the end, they got what they wanted. Is this record adequate? Yes. They took a big bunch of noises, samples, snippets of melody, added one or two “finished” tracks, and called it Nonsense. Because it is nonsense. It makes no pretense of making sense. But it’s not really the kind of nonsense that holds up well over the years.

It’s outrageously dated nonsense. It doesn’t do anything. You don’t dance to it, you don’t laugh to it, you don’t cry to it, you can’t even scream “Wow! Now that’s weird!’ at the top of your lungs because it ain’t any more weird than [insert the title of your favourite weird album here]. It’s just there. It’s that kind of modern art which comes up to you and says, ‘Hi! They say that as of today, I’m Art, nice to meet you!’, and you go ‘Uh-huh. Say, you got any idea where the restroom is?’ and you probably never meet again for the rest of your life, but at least you didn’t punch each other in the face or anything.

As usual, there is the obligatory one “classic” on here – the band’s reworking of the ‘Dragnet’ movie theme, which is, indeed, a fairly infectious electronic dance-pop number, although nowhere near as inventive as ‘Close To The Edit’ or gimmicky as ‘Peter Gunn’ (no Duane Eddy here to bridge the gap between the Old Guard and the New Por… err, Experimentators). When it jumps out at you after the one-minute sequence of lonely pipe sounds, it’s really a great Leap for Artofnoisekind, but, unfortunately, the only one. The tune goes on for three minutes, and once it’s over, you enter this twisted, complex jungle of whatchamacallits mixed with thingamajigs, and you never get out until thirty five minutes later.

Lemme make a quick check which might rev me (or you) up… so there’s a bunch of people loudly going somewhere… now there’s this loud sci-fi onslaught with annoying percussion booms… now there’s a bunch of Bach-like organ notes… the percussion onslaught is back again – what’s this, Mars attack?… ah, there it is, all quiet, somebody laughing in the background… hmm, sounds like the repetition of an orchestra… here comes something gloomy and unnerving, with a scary, but lazy bassline… what’s this, ethnic beats? bongos? stupid synth pattern, really… quiet again… something vaguely industrial chunking and bunking in the background… now there’s something cohesive – the orchestra actually starts to play… good… keep it up… that’s definitely not Art Of Noise, but I like it… classical music lovers please help me identify this… hmm, looks like they got the opening ‘Dragnet’ bit performed by the orchestra as well… somebody screaming and whooing… more of their trademark dum-dum-dumming and their favourite sound (starting up!)… now, maybe we can dance to this at least?.. nah, way too slow and the bongos are too quiet… plus, it’s got adult contemporary synth background… wait, now it actually starts to grow… still unclear if it’s a moody ballad or dance music… probably both… the piano sounds pretty good… they stopped… there they go again… false alarm… stopped again… started… wait, no, they let it slide… new rhythm… this one’s definitely danceable, but the melody sucks… the car starts up again… somebody please tell them there are other interesting sounds to be sampled apart from motors being revved up… nice bassline… sucky synths… slows down… end of side one… wait a minute..end of side one? I’m still waiting for something to happen!

Well, actually, side 2 is a bit better. I do like ‘Ode To Don Jose’ with its freaky synth melody and great idea of sampling (Dudley’s?) laughter several times before passing it through a “vocal grinder” for the last time. I’m also quite partial to ‘Roller 1’ which really does roll along, with a great pumping bassline and a “driving” synth melody which, in its own perverted way, actually rocks or, at least, gives the impression of going somewhere. (There’s also a few really cool bits of “generic” Eighties pop-metal guitar that’s given a mean wolfish howl in this setting).

And the last track, ‘One Earth’, with its crude, but working mix of insane yodelling with Eastern overtones and ethnic beats, gives us a glimpse at Art of Noise’s future dabblings in “world music”, as well as stands pretty well on its own as a cool moody interlude. But even these three tunes are still islands in a sea of noodling – sometimes crappy, sometimes tolerable, but always forgettable.

I do award them one extra point for the conception. On a purely ‘intellectual’ level, this variegated puzzle does look interesting, and even if most of its components were nothing new by 1987, the idea of glueing them together in this monolithic way was still fresh – most experimental people were still thinking in terms of individual compositions. And In No Sense does work better as a whole than as a sum of its parts; unfortunately, mostly because the parts themselves are so bloody weak. Or maybe I’m just imagining things and it would have worked better as a row of self-sustainable compositions, meaning that this ‘mosaics-like’ organisation principle is unsuitable for experimental music. But nah, I think they could have worked it out fine. What’s good for Jethro Tull could have been good for Art Of Noise. At least it’s way better than whatever Tull themselves were releasing that year. I’d much rather listen to ‘Dragnet’ than to ‘Steel Monkey’!

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise In No Sense? Nonsense? | | Leave a comment