Classic Rock Review

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Art Of Noise Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise (Deluxe Edition 2011) (1984)


The introductory video on the DVD half of this reissue talks about the legacy of the Art of Noise– mentioning Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers, and Massive Attack. It’s easy to see why the group would be proud of such lustrous descendants, but it actually sells them short.

What’s interesting about Art of Noise– certainly the first phase of their project, which culminated in this debut album– isn’t so much their children but their parents. This was a pop band named after a 1913 art manifesto, deliberately aspiring to inherit the explosion of early 20th century conceptual creativity and make Futurists and Dadaists rub shoulders with b-boys and clubbers. The group’s own arch-conceptualist, music writer Paul Morley, apparently planned an album that would be a grand collage of the century’s sounds– what he actually got was an acrimonious split.

Morley may, in his words, have only “made the tea” in Art of Noise, but he dominates the visual half of this reissue: introducing videos, reading out essays onstage, continually playing the ideas man and provocateur even if his incessant wordplay’s an acquired taste. The group’s videos are proof that this apparent pretension came with a smart payoff. “Beat Box” is recast as the soundtrack to a city with lively, evocative footage of 1980s London cut to its rhythm.

“Moments in Love” mixes dancers and tortoises, grace and absurdity. And most famously “Close (to the Edit)”, the dream-logic realization of the group’s ideals, with a creepy punker kid commanding anonymous wreckers as they smash cellos and pianos to pieces.

“Close (to the Edit)” reminds you that Art of Noise were trying to be funny and sometimes scary– neither of them standard pop ambitions in 1984 or now. In fact, what’s striking about this album is the range of moods and effects it musters, while remaining an intensely playful record. It follows the savage, martial arrangement of Cold War bricolage “A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid)” with a teasing version of “Beat Box” where the track’s purposeful electro keeps getting diverted by shiny new sounds.

On the title track, a snooty voice asks, “Can I say something?” and the music refuses to let it even say that, gleefully slashing the sample to ribbons. The album flirts with annoyance and even boredom– the way the stately, repetitive beauty of “Moments in Love” lulls you before unwinding itself into stranger places. But they could also be thrilling. Their immediate context was hip-hop, but their kind of funk– best experienced on “Close (to the Edit)”– has a brash rigor to it, calling to mind tireless pistons and marching feet.

“This limited circle of pure sounds must be broken,” Luigi Russolo wrote in the manifesto that inspired the band, “and the infinite variety of noise-sound conquered.” But the technological limits to sampling in 1984 meant that Art of Noise were stuck with a very finite variety of noise-sound, constantly worrying at and reusing snippets of samples.

The only problem with the many reissues of early Art of Noise is the group’s endless recycling of its two key tracks. “Beat Box”– of which “Close (to the Edit)” is a cousin– and “Moments in Love” were on their first EP, then issued as separate singles, appeared on every compilation, dominated this debut album, and now appear– counting the DVD– six times each on this reissue.

For diehard fans, the incessant tinkering is part of the fun– for listeners less caught up in the band’s process, it’s easy to get a little weary with the radio sessions and alternate video edits collected here. Stick with the core album and videos, though, and you realize the reason Art of Noise kept returning to these songs: Both are superb, anchoring a record that’s as sly, stirring, and occasionally infuriating now as it was on release.

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Daft (1984)


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!

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Daft | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Drum And Bass Collection (1996) & The Fon Mixes (1997)


The Art of Noise are one of the most sampled bands in music history. Pieces of their work are found in some of the most popular music of the past 13 years (The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” comes to mind among many many others). Their beginnings in 1983 saw them as a faceless studio-bound vehicle for Trevor Horn, and their body of work created “…the blueprint for new styles of hip-hop and electro-rhythms” and became “…a crystal ball of hardcore technology”.

Now we come to the stage where the very people who were moved by AON’s early works to create on their own, come “home” and put their spin on the work of their mentors.

The FON Mixes are the hardcore’s response to their historical influences. Each original Art Of Noise track is re-mixed with a burst of energy from noted mixers like Mark Gamble, Youth and Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire (using the pseudonym Sweet Exorcist).

On the FON CD “Peter Gunn” is mixed with “Dragnet”. It gets really campy and exaggerated using vintage Art Of Noise echoes and backbeat as it lumbers along. This Mark Gamble mix of “Peter Gunn” is as right-on representation of the original track, as his mix of “Yebo” is abstract. With its ominous beginning, and its blend of African chants with mechanized beats, there is not much of the original to be heard in this mix, which runs just short of two minutes.

“The Art of Slow Love” is brilliantly re-done by Youth starting off a bit like Primal Scream’s “Loaded” easing into a long, slow, sexy groove. Samples of “Moments In Love” are sprinkled throughout the track, seemingly reminiscing about the original AON track.

The Drum and Bass Collection tackles many of the same songs, but with a more textured approach. This collection features mixes from ILS, Flyright, Lemon D (from Metalhedz) and Lightfoot among others. I was not readily familiar with the work of these mixers, as many Americans will not be, but their work on this CD speaks volumes.

Flyright tackles “Peter Gunn” in a way that is diametrically opposed to Gamble’s (from FON). Completely unrecognizable as “Peter Gunn”, this track speeds along at a breakneck pace. There is no exact pattern or reason to this mix of the track, but that is what grabs your attention, and keeps it to the end.

The bassy meandering of Lightfoot’s almost-six-minute version of “Yebo” makes its numerous tempo changes with low-key grace. The levity with which ILS attacks “The Art of Love” is not at all like Youth’s ‘Slow’ version. It owes more to break-beat in the beginning, and its tempo changes plateau at an ambient groove.

The Art Of Noise has contributed a great deal to the music we all listen to. Getting your music from the very source of this genre will show you how it has developed over the years, and will allow you to pick out samples from this often credited group. Using the old AON albums as reference points and comparing the mixes is as enlightening as listening gets.

June 2, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Drum And Base Collection, Art Of Noise The Fon Mixes | | Leave a comment

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

Art Of Noise In Visible Silence (1986)


No Trevor Horn? Well, what’s in a name but a little-known Yes member who couldn’t even turn an album like Drama into a timeless masterpiece.

Turns out that Dudley & Co. can function as a functional function even without their spiritual mentor. There have been made subtle changes, though. And the subtlest change is the most painful: they don’t sound nearly as.. uhh… juvenile on this record. It’s darker and denser and at times, it’s fuckin’ serious. And it’s just not as captivating to hear an avantgarde record that takes itself seriously as hearing an avantgarde record that just goofs around with you.

If only for the reason that there’s way too many records that fall into the former category and way too few that fall into the latter. Still, it’s a good album, and as every good album, it grows on you from the minute you have firmly established that this just might be a good album. The big temptation about it was the single ‘Peter Gunn’, released at the same time and featuring Duane Eddy himself on guitar. Actually playing, not just sampled, unless I’ve got something wrong.

It was, of course, an excellent choice, and today, along with ‘Close To The Edit’, it just might be the most “quotable” AON track of all time. Eddy’s basic guitar riff is, of course, used as the spine for all the usual AON gimmicks – synth loops, electronic drums, sampled effects a-plenty and hilarious dum-dum-dumming vocals. Perhaps the most telling moment is when they actually try to reproduce the melody with a sequence of their favourite sound – that of the automobile engine revving up! That moment just got to be heard. And for the diehards, this new CD edition that I am reviewing actually adds an extended six-minute version of the track as a bonus (with Eddie muttering ‘oh you don’t think I should do one more?’ midway through).

However, great fun as it is, ‘Peter Gunn’ just isn’t very typical of the rest of this album – in terms of atmosphere, it hearkens back to the debut, and the only thing that it has in common with the rest of In Visible Silence is that it’s much more of a compact musical performance than any of the early numbers. Only the opening track – ‘Opus 4’ – is “anti-musical” (just a bunch of overdubbed Dudley vocals sounding occasionally not unlike a stoned Beach Boys outtake from the Smile sessions); most of the rest not only have rhythms, but actually melodies. And they’re much more openly danceable, too. In fact, ‘Paranoimia’ definitely has a disco glitz to it, although, of course, a weird one.

Keeping up with the tradition, much of the album’s second side is given over to ‘Camilla – The Old Old Story’, a moody, half-ambient (but rhythmic) instrumental that looks like the yonger sister of ‘Moments In Love’. In fact, it’s almost as good as ‘Moments In Love’, but lacks the major hook of that monster, and the 10cc/’I’m Not In Love’ connection turns out way too strong (those deep hushed vocals singing gibberish I can’t decipher are hardly a coincidence).

And then there’s ‘Instruments Of Darkness’, another huge epic that more or less matches its name – it is dark, starting from the ominous overdubbed political commentary throughout and ending with the sometimes almost Wagnerian “orchestral” whomps and swooshes. Maybe a ‘Hey! Hey!’ or a ‘can I say something?’ would help somehow alleviate the atmosphere, but instead of that, we only get proto-Rammstein yells of ‘come on!’.

If we prefer to speak in terms of catchiness, the best song after ‘Peter Gunn’ would have to be ‘Legs’ – an almost mainstreamish synth-popper… then again, wait a minute, I keep forgetting that at this time Art Of Noise pretty much were mainstream, right? Weren’t they supposed to be selling out the electronic underground and all? Well, on ‘Legs’ they’re doing it nifty fine, and it’s a terrible pity that so few Eighties’ synth-poppers bothered to study their approach – with numerous overdubs, diverse keyboard tones, and repetitiveness based on cyclic development rather than on… well, on repetitiveness.

There’s a whole slew of catchy moments on ‘Legs’, and the biggest problem is you’re gonna have to fish them out, just like you have to fish out the best 10cc hooks off their classic records – there’s just so many of them they can’t bring themselves to repeat them more than a couple times.

‘Backbeat’, in the meantime, rises to almost epic heights at times – it’s definitely ambitious, what with all the Quadrophenia-like synthesizers giving the track epic (or mock-epic) majesty it probably doesn’t deserve, but, to give them their due, they never really sound pretentious. You know, after all, that it’s all just one big quote, and that if sometimes the synthesizers swirl around in pseudo-violin phrases that really belong on ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, this is totally intentional. (The band’s Who fetish is pretty interesting, actually – remember the ‘Baba O’Riley’ sample? Hmm, could it be a masked tribute to Pete Townshend as one of the big “electronic sample” innovators of the early Seventies?).

All in all, the “Hornless band” are still going strong, but whereas that earlier 12 was afforded by me out of true inner devotion, this here 11 is afforded rather out of respect and curiosity (plus there’s ‘Peter Gunn’). That said, I can see where serious fans of AON and similar music could prefer this over the debut – provided they actually respect their idols more when they’re serious. Because, honestly, these are no longer naughty kids messing around with their dad’s electronic toys.

These are stern conceptual artists making some kind of point (although it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of point). And since I honestly believe that this kind of music is at its best when it’s openly silly, well, you get me drift here. ‘Peter Gunn’ is silly, so I love it. ‘Instruments Of Darkness’ ain’t silly, so I… uhh… feel it’s sorta respectable.

But really, this is a good album.

May 31, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise In Visible Silence | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Into Battle With The Art Of Noise (1983)


Into Battle with the Art of Noise is the latest installment (No. 16, to be precise) in ZTT’s fine Element Series of reissues via the Salvo label. As with the Claudia Brücken collection Combined, the disc is packaged in a miniature gatefold LP sleeve.

The astute listener will notice that both the front and booklet covers contain a typo, with “Flesh in Armour” listed as “Flesh in Armous”. This is unfortunate, but perhaps this can be fixed with subsequent printings. On the other hand, the artwork is crisp and clean, unlike the 1999/2000 ZTT reissues through Universal, which had to rely on already printed material because, if I recall correctly, the original artwork for most of the early ZTT albums was lost to fire.

The re-created album artwork aside, the obvious point of comparison for this edition would be the 20th anniversary reissue released in 2003 by Repertoire. By most measures, the Element Edition (as the ZTT web site refers to it) of Into Battle is an improvement.

For starters, the original version of “Beat Box” has been restored to the running order, whereas the 20th anniversary edition contained “Beat Box (Diversion 1)” in its place.

The sound quality is much improved, in my opinion. The 20th anniversary edition was mastered at hotter levels, which, while not carried out to extremes utilized, did not exactly make for repeated listening. The Element Edition is mastered at more reasonable levels, and is consistent with other releases in ZTT’s Element Series.

Some folks will grumble, perhaps rightly so, that the cassette version of “Moments in Love” is used here instead of the full 10-minute version. However, the liner notes indicate that this is to avoid duplication with the forthcoming deluxe reissue of Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise, which will include the full version.

Speaking of Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise, that LP was apparently the result of changes made (to appeal more to a mainstream audience) after the unexpected single success of “Close (to the edit)”. Before that single became a hit, The Art of Noise had put together an album called Worship. That previously unreleased album is included here.

I was always somewhat disappointed in Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise, particularly since I already had “Beat Box (Diversion One)”, “Close (to the edit)” (which sprang forth from “Beat Box (Diversion Two)”), and “Moments in Love” on other releases, and the new material included was mostly too short and not very interesting.

Worship, on the other hand, contains more new material, more varied material, and is both longer and more interesting. The interludes “One Finger of Love”, “Two Fingers of Love”, and “Three Fingers of Love” (which is *not* the same as the track on “daft” listed as “(Three Fingers of) Love”) are jazzy pieces dominated by strings, sax, and piano, and would have been quite unexpected from the group at that point in time. And “Confession” is actually kind of funky, relatively speaking. But we do still get more “Beat Box” – in the form of “Close (to the edit)” and Diversions 1, 3, and 5 (not in that order).

If Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise was monochrome (as suggested by its sleeve art), then Worship is its more colorful counterpart. I assume that the album never got as far as the sleeve design, since the only related images shown in the booklet are the track listings from the master tape boxes.

The inclusion of Worship is a smart move on the part of ZTT, since Into Battle as presented here is also included in the 2006 box set, And What Have You Done with My Body, God? About a half-dozen tracks from Worship are also part of that set (though, as the liner notes point out, not yet placed in the context of Worship), but that still leaves 12 tracks that owners of said box will not already have. Since this edition of Into Battle is a single disc, that means the cost of those 12 tracks is not terribly outrageous.

In short, better sound, new liner notes, crisp artwork, and an album’s worth of extra material. Hard to go wrong with this one.

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Into Battle With The Art Of Noise | | Leave a comment

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

Art Of Noise Daft (1984)


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?

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Daft | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise (1984)


Well, normally, everybody’s afraid. But give it just one spin and you’ll understand that in reality the album title is much more ironic than its is “threatening”.

You could indeed argue that this was the first techno-pop album ever; you could actually win the argument, too, because this is no goddamn Kraftwerk here. Producer Trevor Horn, yes, the same Trevor Horn that was once a member of Yes, and his gang o’ three weird production/engineering/mixing goons, with Anne Dudley at the top, set out to revolutionize popular music with this puppy… again. And pretty much succeed. Now I’m no expert on electronica-based genres of the Nineties, but I know for sure that techno, trance, house, you name it, they all owe a lot to this album; and I certainly know for sure that these guys were ahead of their time at least a good five or six years or so.

In fact, I wonder what kind of things shocked reviewers were writing about it at the time. See, this is by far the first, or the first well-known, album, that actually introduces the practice of sampling; and by sampling I don’t mean merely ‘cut-and-paste’ kind of things which Can were doing a decade earlier, but more like sampling in the modern sense of the word. Just the most simple example: the one-minute ‘Snapshot’ builds up a cyclic pattern of drum machines, synth loops and croakings around the famous three-note piano riff of ‘Baba O’Riley’. Simple and effective, actually fun, too, and as far as I know – unprecedented.

Apart from that, I guess the best way to describe Who’s Afraid would be “sound collage”, but unlike, for instance, the underground industrial bands of the time, Art Of Noise were definitely trying to mold their collages into rhythmic, almost danceable grooves. Heck, what’s up with “almost”? They are danceable! ‘Beatbox’, although in a somewhat different version, was, like, the ultimate break dance soundtrack of its time!

This is why they proved so “influential”, with tons of techno and trance performers ripping out the weirdness and imagination of this music and leaving just the rhythmic punch. Ah well, we can’t blame them for all the techno crap they’ve launched upon this world anyway, or else we’d have to blame the Beatles for Barry Manilow or something.

In any case, I can’t say that deep down in my soul, I like this album all that much. I’m not saying it has no emotional or entertainment value – it’s just way too weird and convention-disturbing and jerky for its own good. However, and this is very important, neither does it fall into that category of records which I perceive as “museum quality” (i.e. listen to it once or twice to get a unique, curious experience, then shove ’em somewhere deep in the cupboard so that you can forget all about ’em, then maybe rediscover them ten years later and get the same experience again). For the simple reason that I seriously had the urge to relisten to at least parts of it at least several times, and lemme tellya, this never happened with any Faust or Einstuerzende Neubauten record.

Weird, because the only more or less ‘normal’ song on it happens to be the ten-minute long opus ‘Moments In Love’, and ironically, it’s also by far the worst number: unlike all the other grooves, which are energetic and disturbing, ‘Moments In Love’ is supposed to be a slow moody romantic ‘electronic shuffle’, with no unpredictable melody/mood transitions, no sampling, no crazyass vocal effects, just a few New Age-style synth chords actually played throughout its duration.

For two or three minutes, I could reasonably tolerate it; five minutes would be justified if two of them were dedicated to that ‘different’ mid-section; but ten minutes of it is boring as hell. And it just sticks out like a sore thumb – not really innovative either. Maybe they just really wanted a “normal” composition in there so that people wouldn’t be put off that much, but why stick it in the middle then? Don’t get me wrong – the basic premise is beautiful, but ten minutes? Nah.

In any case, if a guy is gonna be put off by this record, he’s gonna be put off beginning with the first two or three minutes. ‘A Time For Fear (Who’s Afraid)’ opens the proceedings with a strange spoken anti-imperialist rant, then a raving onslaught of echoing drum machines that sometimes go into unpredictable loops together with the accompanying bits of said rant, then calms down with a short synth-only New Age-meets-medieval interlude, then the drum machines kick in again. Then, with a funny ‘oh no I don’t believe it… ba ba ba bam’ the record leads you into ‘Beat Box’, which is… nup, I guess it’s impossible to describe it. Sometimes you be gettin’ a funny funky bassline. Then suddenly the bassline is no more, and instead you get a poppy guitar riff, and then that bassline pops up somewhere from another direction and it’s all speedy and apparently computer processed and looped and whatever, and all around you you get swirling dancey synth patterns and vocals coming from every direction saying all kinds of jumbled nonsense.

Very often, you’re going to encounter the same melody bits and the same vocal bits in different songs; it’s all like an insane potpourri, a big piece o’ pie chopped into several pieces and scattered randomly throughout the forty minutes. I swear I did hear these looped car-ignition noises in several numbers at least, although, of course, they’re mostly prominent as the rhythm-substituting elements of the single ‘Close (To The Edit)’, arguably the best known song on the album. (And I do guess that the Yes reference is intentional, seeing as how there was Trevor Horn producing this thing, plus they actually pronounce ‘to be in England, in the summertime, with my love, close to the edge’ at one point). And if you listen very carefully, you’ll notice that the bassline driving the song forward is actually a slightly modified rockabilly kind of thing. But it meshes with the ignition rhythm perfectly.

One thing that people usually forget to mention about Who’s Afraid is how fun it all sounds. You probably wouldn’t expect a bunch of samples to beg for a description involving the words “lively”, “joyful”, “enthusiastic”, “childishly hilarious”, etc., but these are exactly the definitions that spring to mind. It is all perhaps best symbolized by Dudley’s unabashed, refreshingly sincere fit of laughter at the end of the title track – and the echoey ‘Boom!’ she yells into the microphone like a little kid who’s so innocently happy about just having discovered a supercool gadget and being able to mess around with it. I mean, the things they’re doing aren’t all that different from whatever you the cool (or, rather, the uncool) weird experimental guy are doing sitting all alone in the dark with your computer and a bunch of .wav files, dicking around trying to make something unusual. They just happened to be the first people to really gain notoriety with this – and also, to do this better than most other people.

I’m not going into details over the remaining tracks – they’re all pretty similar, with recurring themes and lookalike atmospheres. But anyway, this is certainly an outstanding record, and it actually symbolized a time when people were taking the practices of sampling and computer processing and trying to create a whole new musical world, a whole new sonic dimension, a whole new emotional pattern, mayhaps, with it. I guess in the end, they didn’t succeed – boring dance people just took over the easiest of their achievements and discarded the major ones.

But that doesn’t mean these records aren’t worth your attention; after all, just because hippies did not manage to bring peace and love to the whole world does not mean you can’t enjoy Crosby, Stills, & Nash even in the modern day world.

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Influence: Hits, Singles, Moments, Treasures (2010)


I’ve been very lucky to receive an early copy of the new Art Of Noise (AON) “Influence”, a collection which from outset appears to have been lovingly conceived and executed by ZTT & Union Square.

Having been an AON fan, but having never picked up a “Best Of” to date, I have very much been looking forward to this release, particularly as I was so delighted with The Buggles “Adventures In Modern Recording” re-issue from the same company earlier this year.

Where to begin? Well, firstly, this is no jewel cased, 4 page, lets-do-as-little-work-as-possible release. It really is a package put together with tender loving care. Housed in a multi leaf dig pack, this double disc set comes with a 35 page booklet, filled with all you could possibly need to know about every era of AON. Ian Peels’ captivating essay drills down to staggering detail, taking us from their beginnings as a Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Paul Morley, JJ Jeczalik, Gary Langan super group, through their commercial Dudley-Langan-Jeczalik zenith to their late 90s reformation with Horn & Morley.

It’s very clear Ian knows exactly what he is talking about, both as a fan and a researcher, making a refreshing change to the often inaccurate liner notes that can accompany such a release. You can be absolutely certain that as much thought went into the booklet as it did the track selections.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably no stranger to the music of AON and as a hits collection, on disc one you’ll get exactly what it says on the tin. They’re all here, and in some instances for the first time on CD in their original 7″ format (“Moments In Love”, also included is 12″ b-side “Love Beat”). My particular favourites will always be “Peter Gunn”, “Beat Box” and “Paranomia” (featured in rare 12″ form) and strangely enough, “Dragnet”, a single I remember buying on 12″ but haven’t heard for years. Likewise it’s good to hear the bizarre mega-mix b-side “Action Art” again.

I still remember thinking “what the hell was that?” at the time! I remember having the same reaction to “Kiss” back then, which of course became their biggest hit and went on to revitalise the career of Tom Jones. Technically, CD one could end there but it is a nice touch to see their final charting single, 1999’s “Metaforce” included, albeit in a slightly longer 1998 mix. The real surprise to me though is the inclusion of the previously unheard “Something Is Missing”, a re-imagining of “Dreaming In Colour”, the `lost’ single from “The Seduction Of Claude Debussy”.

I think this could have been the hit the album needed, fusing as it did elements of AON V4.0, Paul Hardcastles’ “19” and a dab of the perennially popular Frankie Goes To Hollywood vibe. A missed opportunity indeed I think.

Disc Two. What’s so special about AON? Well, these 20 unreleased tracks answer that question. Expect the unexpected, and the theoretically impossible. These tracks represent previously unheard moments in time from each version of group. Kicking off with alternate mixes of singles such as “Beat Box” and “Moments In Love” (Anne To Tears Mix – nice anecdotes on this in the liner notes), there’s also an unreleased 12″ mix of “A Time For Fear”, that shows what we could have had if the 4th single from “Who’s Afraid (Of The Art Of Noise)?” had have happened.

There’s a lot on this second disc to absorb, and it will take time and repeated listens to appreciate the wealth of material here, but obvious highlights for me so far are the unreleased JJ/Dudley “Cassandra”, a song which seems to encapsulate every era of the band in six shining minutes, and a Way Out West mix of “Dreaming In Colour”, which for me is probably the best moment of 90s AON. There’s a true treasure trove here and something for everybody. I think there are going to be some delighted fans out there come August 2nd.

A final note, because I know what a bone of contention audio quality can be with lovers of catalogue re-issues. You’ll find refreshing honesty here with regards to the source materials. Ian makes it quite clear which (few) tracks no master could be sourced for, and ultimately what format those tracks were taken from, although I have to say that you’d be hard to spot the two vinyl transfers from the rest if you weren’t made aware. Only one, crucial track, is sourced from MP3 and since it runs for only 52 seconds I think that is acceptable! All in all, this is not bad going for a 39 track collection.

Almost all of the material has been lifted from original Ampex tapes or DAT masters and carefully remastered so rest assured you’re spending your money on something worth spending it on.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Influence: Hits Singles Moments Treasures | | Leave a comment