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"Can I say something?"

Class D

Main Category: Avantgarde
Also applicable: Electronica, Dance Pop, Ambient
Starting Period: The Early Years
Also active in: The Psychedelic Years, The Artsy/Rootsy Years,

The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an Art Of Noise fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Art Of Noise fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The Art Of Noise never were an actual band; they were an artistic project who liked to make music but hardly ever felt like playing music, way before creative DJing became a mass phenomenon. Calling them the Beatles of electronic dance music would be too high an honour considering they only really put out one total classic and the rest of their output has remained of debatable quality over the years; but certainly the impact of that one album had been huge, so huge that The Art Of Noise are guaranteed a stable spot in the annals of music history regardless of any opposing opinions that I, or you, or the spirit of Frank Sinatra might come up with.

The "band"'s creative father was Trevor Horn, former Buggle and Yes member and by the early Eighties - head of the experimental ZTT (Zang Tung Tuum) label, which was, apparently, one of the main competitors of the famous 4AD studio when it came to creating radically new types of music. However, the differences in approach were obvious: where 4AD focused on the "ethereal", making unusual sonic texture the cornerstone of their concerns, ZTT preferred to focus on the "jerky electronic", making stuff that could be appreciated by mainstream listeners yet at the same time remain seriously experimental. (That's putting it very roughly, of course).

Of course, there was always the ever-reliable Kraftwerk to do that kind of thing, but, first of all, Kraftwerk were running out of steam, not having had a new album since 1981, and, second, Kraftwerk were Germans; the world needed something fresh out of a more trustworthy Anglo-Saxon oven. The Art Of Noise was just the thing. Under the guidance of Trevor Horn, three very revolutionary-minded gentlemen and one equally revolutionary-minded lady by the name of Anne Dudley came together and produced an album which complied to the following requirements: a) it was almost entirely based upon sampling, which gave it both an experimental edge and an unusual danceable drive that would be unattainable through regular means; b) it was perfectly accessible as a basic listening experience, at least to everybody who could accept the new approach with an open mind; c) it was lightweight and fun.

Lo and behold, sampling was introduced into mass culture, and the breakdance craze hit the fan. Today, the revolutionary qualities of AON's 1983-84 output can be easily overlooked just because pretty much everybody in possession of a good synthesizer, let alone a quality recording studio, can do this. But before AON, nobody did it. Yes, there were the 'elitist' works of Kraftwerk, and stuff by even more obscure and artsy electronica wizards, and, of course, New Wave was in full swing, but this particular brand of music-making, which, fair enough, even now many people refuse to acknowledge as 'music' in the first place (although it certainly deserves to be called that much more than something like Metal Machine Music), just didn't exist.

However, that's all history talk; history talk, as interesting as it can be, can never replace sincere enjoyment of music. And this is where I come to the best part of all. Too often, electronic/sampled music seems to be done by people from a different planet, which makes it almost impossible for a person with a primarily "rock" background to enjoy it fully even if he's ready to respect the effort (yep, talkin' 'bout you, Autechre). But this never applied to Art of Noise. However innovative and, at times, openly crazy they could be with their means, in the end the music betrays a love for the basics of pop music; were it not so, they would not have even begun to try and make melodies out of samples of neighing horses and revved up engines. At times, they could even be openly romantic ('Moments In Love', not surprisingly, their best known song of all, and the one that will probably survive even when 'Close To The Edit' no longer does).

Unfortunately, they weren't able to sustain the momentum. Others had picked up the ball and ran with it. Perhaps one of their big mistakes was parting ways with their guru, Trevor Horn, and starting to make music without his creative protection - although, to be fair, I have no idea just how much Trevor actually brought to the recordings. 1986's In Visible Silence was a decent follow-up to the breakthrough of Who's Afraid?, but lacked the hilariousness and overall freshness of the former, even if they were still experimenting like mad, even bringing in Fifties' guitar hero Duane Eddy for inspiration. Then, the following year, they took the hugest gamble of their career, with the sprawling forty-minute collage of In No Sense? Nonsense!... and crashed on the ground in a million broken pieces. It was pretentious, meandering, and really made no sense, in the bad sense of making no sense.

They were never quite the same afterwards; retreating to make more restrained, less defiantly experimental music didn't help their reputation much (although I do like Below The Waste), and by the end of the Eighties the "band" - or "project", rather - fell apart. After that, nothing was heard of them for almost a decade, apart from a huge four-or-five series of remixes made by outside artists, which I will not be discussing or reviewing here because this has little to do with The Art Of Noise per se. And a reunion in the late Nineties, when they were unexpectedly joined by former 10cc keyboard player Lol Creme, certainly did not help to rebuild their reputation. On the other hand, I have a hard time trying to imagine what kind of album would help rebuild it. Maybe they should start thinking about a collective project with Linkin Park's frontman.

In any case, what is important to understand is that Who's Afraid is a total (or near-total) classic and if you don't own this and yet consider yourself an electronic/trance/techno/whatever fan, you're nothing but a helpless phoney, like that guy next door who proclaims himself a seasoned heavy metal fan even if he never ever ventured beyond Metallica's Black Album. That album alone guarantees them the current overall rating. As for the rest of their catalog, proceed with caution. Below The Waste is my second favourite, but most critics pan it as their weakest effort; on the other side, I absolutely abhor their comeback album (brr!), but many fans prefer to see it as a modern art rock masterpiece, so go figure.

Lineup: Anne Dudley, Johnathon J. Jeczalik, Paul Morley - all kinds of all kinds of things; Gary Langan was their irreplaceable engineer and colleague. And don't forget Trevor Horn, of course. The 1999 reunion was powered by Dudley, Morley, and Horn, with Lol Creme of 10cc/Godley & Creme coming on board for no apparent reason.



Year Of Release: 1984

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Isn't it funny how techno-pop began its life as this LIVELY JOYFUL concoction?..

Best song: CLOSE (TO THE EDIT)

Track listing: 1) A Time For Fear (Who's Afraid); 2) Beat Box [diversion one]; 3) Snapshot; 4) Close (To The Edit); 5) Who's Afraid (Of The Art Of Noise); 6) Moments In Love; 7) Momento; 8) How To Kill/Realization.

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.



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

One of the few compilations I can allow myself to rate. WHY? BECAUSE I'M DAFT!!!

Best song: out of the 'new' ones - (THREE FINGERS) OF LOVE, but that's not saying much

Track listing: 1) Moments In Love; 2) A Time For Fear (Who's Afraid); 3) Beat Box (diversion one); 4) The Army Now; 5) Donna; 6) Memento; 7) How To Kill; 8) Realization; 9) Who's Afraid (Of The Art Of Noise); 10) Moments In Love; 11) Bright Noise; 12) Flesh In Armour; 13) Comes And Goes; 14) Snapshot; 15) Close (To The Edit); 16) (Three Fingers Of) Love.

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?



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Looks like they're actually trying to make music here. But it still works.

Best song: PETER GUNN

Track listing: 1) Opus 4; 2) Paranoimia; 3) Eye Of A Needle; 4) Legs/Slip Of The Tongue; 5) Backbeat; 6) Instruments Of Darkness; 7) Peter Gunn; 8) Camilla - The Old Old Story; 9) The Chameleon's Dish/Beatback; [BONUS TRACK:] 10) Peter Gunn (extended version).

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. The 11 is deserved.



Year Of Release: 1987

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Too much confusion to make proper sense.

Best song: question irrelevant.

Track listing: 1) Galleons Of Stone; 2) Dragnet; 3) Fin Du Temps; 4) How Rapid?; 5) Opus For Four; 6) Debut; 7) E.F.L.; 8) A Day At The Races; 9) Ode To Don Jose; 10) Counterpoint; 11) Roundabout; 12) Ransom On The Sand; 13) Roller 1; 14) Nothing Was Going To Stop Them Anyway; 15) Crusoe; 16) One Earth.

Now this is no 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 tracklisting 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 WEEEEEEIRD!' 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 trach, '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'!



Year Of Release: 1989

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Nope, it does NOT hurt to get a little bit more normal from time to time.

Best song: YEBO!

Track listing: 1) Dan Dare; 2) Yebo!; 3) Catwalk; 4) Promenade 1; 5) Dilemma; 6) Island; 7) Chang Gang; 8) Promenade 2; 9) Back To Back; 10) Flashback; 11) Spit; 12) Robinson Crusoe; 13) James Bond Theme; 14) Finale.

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 - discoified 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 Sleapless 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?



Year Of Release: 1999

Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 5

I sincerely hope this is NOT how art-rock is going to sound in the third millennium.

Best song: nah.

Track listing: 1) Il Pleure (At The Turn Of The Century); 2) Born On A Sunday; 3) Dreaming In Colour; 4) On Being Blue/Continued In Colour; 5) Rapt In The Evening Air/Metaforce; 6) The Holy Egoism Of Genius/La Flute De Pan; 7) Metaphor On The Floor; 8) Approximate Mood Swing No. 2; 9) Pause; 10) Out Of This World.

Excuse me for a moment while I extricate all the foulness from my mouth. This is utterly, completely, and infuriatingly horrible. This sucks beyond the slightest possibility of redemption. This is a mockery of everything I ever valued in music, literature, art, physiology, and the life of Mahatma Gandhi. This is a living nightmare that could spoil Hannibal Lector's digestion system. This is the aural equivalent of the worldwide consequences of World War III with special emphasis on the destructive force of the H-bomb. Let's put it straight: I HATE HATE HATE this album. And if this is really "Art Of Noise", then you can probably call Laurie Anderson the Queen of Pop.

First of all, the background. After Below The Waste was critically lambasted worldwide, AON promptly disappeared out of the limelight, and for most of the Nineties, the only reminders of their existence had been all these numerous remix albums like Ambient Collection, The FON Mixes, etc., all of which I have but few of which I'm really interested in; most of this stuff qualifies as decent background music, or maybe as honourable tribute to the one band that started it all. Towards the end of the Nineties, though, nostalgia has taken its toll, and so Dudley, Morley, and - oops! - Trevor Horn himself came together, drafting ex-10cc weird guy Lol Creme in the process.

The basic idea was to do something big, because this was the fuckin' Art of Noise, and if they were coming back, what were they gonna come back with? A bunch of trance instrumentals? They're the godfathers of techno, after all. No, not just the godfathers of techno: The Patron Saints Of All Things Controversial And Rulebreaking. And as such, they decided to pay symbolic tribute to one of their predecessors, and also a patron saint of controversy: Claude Debussy. He who defied the rules of conventionality in classical music at the turn of the last century, he would now symbolically be glorified by his spiritual followers at the turn of this century. Thus the legacy of Claude Debussy The Great and the legacy of Art Of Noise The Terrible would intertwine, become one and make the transgression over to the next century in this monolithic unity. One hell of a project!

And it hurts. Ooh, how badly it hurts. Now I would have tolerated it had it been bad. Unlistenable. Defiantly offensive. Juxtaposing samples of Debussy's music played backwards and interspersed with a flushing toilet. I'm not the biggest fan of epatage for epatage's sake, but I would have understood it. No - this album is offensively boring. It is offensively going absolutely nowhere for one bleeding hour. It is offensively indecisive about whether it wants to be a celebration of generic drum'n'bass values, a tribute to Debussy's operatic inclinations, or a solemn-sounding chunk of New Age muzak. It manages to try and be all of these things and become none of them. Through the ridiculously overblown (and textually primitive) narration, it manages to make a fool of Debussy, and likewise make fools of those who are making a fool of Debussy. It tries to make some kind of serious point - but adds nothing to whatever we might learn of Debussy by listening to his music and/or reading his biography. And the new things it does add are utterly and eminently forgettable.

I can't even begin to discuss these tracks because they're, uhh, non-discussable. Maybe I just don't get this kind of music, of course, but then before making this conclusion we'd have to determine what kind of music this is in the first place. The first track ('Il Pleure') begins as a slow mood-based piano instrumental, then bursts into operatic chanting, and then transforms into a drum'n'bass-based "composition", at times punctuated by artsy narration from, uh, the narrator. I swear I've heard much better music in computer games. The drum'n'bass stylistics completely wipes out the gist of the classical passages, and the classical passages render the drum'n'bass parts completely "ungroovable".

However, even when the danceable melodies are not burdened by classical passages, the situation is hardly better. I dunno, once again, maybe I just don't understand the charms of the drum'n'bass style, but one thing I know: stuff can be melodic, rhythmic (danceable), atmospheric, or, well, "event-like". There's a tiny bit of each in 'Born On A Sunday', but it's just not enough to make any impression on me. The melodic bits are short and feeble, the rhythms aren't "toe-tappable", the atmosphere doesn't dig deep enough, and the 'events' are... well, if you count an occasional bloop or out-of-nowhere funky guitar line an 'event', it's okay, but compared to earlier triumphs, this doesn't even qualify as a parody.

Some - very minor - face is saved on more straightforward numbers like the techno stuff of 'Dreaming In Colour' and Rakim's guest rapping on 'Metaforce' (after all, it is cool to hear the name of Baudelaire rhyming with 'dynamic in the evening air' in the context of a rap delivery), but even these are immediately squashed by the endless boring wanking on tracks with appalling names like 'The Holy Egoism Of Genius'. Yeah right - more like 'The Profane Egoism of Shithead'. And then, to top it off, there is a five-minute fade of a heavily beating heart which just about completely puts to shame the miserable minute or so at the end of Dark Side Of The Moon. Boy, this is some genius.

I have to reiterate for those who might think I'm being too harsh on this piece of crap: I have nothing in particular against "mood music" as such, and I don't get cold shivers at the idea of hearing drum'n'bass (although I'm definitely no fan of it either). This album sucks because it is gruesomely inadequate. With a concept as huge as this one, I'm all set to hear an epochal masterpiece to end all masterpieces, something of Quadrophenia stature - and all I get is this ridiculous mess of simple, uninventive, and not particularly resonant arrangements. I can't imagine a single situation in my life, be it today or ten years later, when I could possibly feel a need to listen to something like this. If I want pleasant, inoffensive mood music, gimme that Brian Eno album; if I want an operatic masterpiece, well, like I said, I can always pick Quadrophenia. What an ignoble end to such a formerly good band.

Oh, and what's arguably the worst moment on here: that last track, 'Out Of This World', starts with the "narrator" solemnly announcing: 'Ladies and gentlemen... The Art of Noise!' After which, just as you're expecting that the glorious Art Of Noise are at least going to cheer you up with a final reworking of 'Close To The Edit' or something, on comes the beating heart (with a few ambient piano chords that are even quieter than Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon in the background). Fuckety fuck fuck. And I listened to this thrice.


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