Artist: Art of Noise
Time: 39 tracks / 139 mins
How do you make up a band: Guitarist, keyboard player, drummer and bassist? What about one image-maker / journalist, a producer (or two), an arranger, a programmer and an engineer? That was essentially how Art of Noise began (with help from the late Malcolm McLaren) and how they helped to re-invent British music in the ‘80s.
There have been Art of Noise collections before, but this one is the ultimate (so far). Coming in a 2CD double foldout digipack, the first disc (“The A Side”) is subtitled “singles, hits, soundtracks and collaborations,” while the second (“The AA Side”) has a parallel journey billed as “unreleased experiments, before and after science.” The booklet is rich with factoids.
The A Side almost selects itself. The obvious tracks include early singles like “Beat Box,” the first hit “Close to the Edit” and “Legs.” Fortunately, the works are assembled in chronological order, so we get a feel for the way the band developed over its four incarnations.
This side is where adventure meets popularism. The clothing may have been inventive, using samples, unusual found sounds and a cupboard full of creative studio work, but the skeleton it hung on was often the basic rock and roll beats from twenty years before.
So re-inventing “Peter Gunn” with help from Duane Eddy was always going to work, but that should never take away from the consummate skill that makes it so well-judged. Using the voice of manufactured character Max Headroom was possibly the most appropriate collaboration that a band based on studio exploration could engage in and he (or it) certainly gave a lift to “Paranoimia.” After these, much to the elitist concerns of some purist fans, Tom Jones was an inspired (and fun) choice to work with them on “Kiss.” In the booklet, Anne Dudley notes that the band had a letter or appreciation from Henry Mancini for what they did with “Peter Gunn,” but that they didn’t expect the same from Prince for “Kiss.”
There are moments of lush beauty among the pop and its darker underbelly, whether the languid, melodic breathiness of the 7” version of “Moments in Love” (for the first time in CD) or its cousin “Love Poem;" a couple of “Promenades" or in “Ode to Don José,” described in the notes as an “overlooked classic.”
The AA Side is the potentially more dangerous place, away from the hits, where we meet the unexpected. For the fainthearted, reassurance lies in alternative versions of “Beat Box” and (two forms of) “Moments in Love.” But actually, while this disc covers the more experimental side of the band, it is just as listenable. “Cassandra” is completely accessible, if a little long, and there are even classical moments among the wider range of samples.
Spread over both discs are tracks from the 1999 album The Seduction of Claude Debussy, which surprisingly came from the final and most long-lived incarnation (original members Gary Langan and J. J. Jeczalik giving way to 10cc’s Lol Creme). It may have sold less, but in its range of styles, from drum & bass to sprinklings of opera, it is arguably the most satisfying part of their journey. AoN had grown up, its teenage playfulness maturing into creativity with the wider spread of tone that their studio trickery had always promised. The airy house beats of “Dreaming in Colour” bear this out, along with the texture-rich “On Being Blue.” “The Holy Egoism of Genius” is another piece that shows how intricate and polished Trevor Horn’s production could be.
Many fans will be saddened that the popular single “Yebo!” is missing, purportedly to allow room for Anne Dudley’s orchestral “Promenade” pieces. It shows just how well-compiled this set is that it is hard to know what else should make way for it. There is history for completists in otherwise pointless pieces like the very short interludes; in Paul Morley’s opening “A is for Beginning” and even on Morley’s embarrassingly pretentious vocal take of “This is Your Life.” The typewriter-tapping tune “Dainty” or third version of the huge “Moments in Love” are about all that could go.
All this and not even mention of the theme tunes to The Krypton Factor or Dragnet. That’s how full of goodies this one is.