The music from the new "Influence" album is playing as I sit on the floor of my office surrounded by the hundreds of worldwide releases on multiple formats in my Art of Noise collection whilst writing this review. Like other serious collectors, I have always known that something else is missing and this compilation, the latest addition to the group's discography, rubs salt into the wound by giving the collector a taste of what else lies hidden away in the vaults. Unlike the previous archive release, "And What Have You Done With My Body, God?", this new selection is not just aimed at the collector. It also acts as part greatest hits and part introduction to the most influential group of the past 30 years.
This is the first compilation since the long deleted original "The Best Of The Art Of Noise" to feature tracks from both the ZTT and China Records back catalogues. Unlike that lost album, this new retrospective includes material from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. ZTT's curator and Art of Noise aficionado Ian Peel has not only complied this labour of love, but has also created a work of art by selecting each individual track with care. Throughout this thirty nine track compilation only four tracks appear on both compilations, the 7" versions of "Kiss" (featuring Tom Jones), "Peter Gunn" (featuring Duane Eddy), "Moments In Love" and "Beat Box (Diversion 10)", the latter two appearing only on the LP/cassette versions of the 1988 collection. By not duplicating all the same versions of singles from "The Best Of...", the listener gets an opportunity to hear the original 7" mixes of "Close (To The Edit)" (a.k.a. "Beat Box (Diversion Seven)"), "Legs", "Dragnet", and the 12" remix, "Paranoimia (The Paranoid Mix)" (with Max Headroom) which all blend in perfectly with the rest of the carefully selected tracks on this album.
The thought of `best of' albums containing b-sides and album tracks had always came across to me as just filling, however that is certainly not the case here! As I mentioned earlier, this album is only part greatest hits. The music of the Art of Noise has never been able to be defined by any genre, as it is a genre within itself and the remaining tracks confirm that statement. "Love Beat" is a perfect example of this, a type of slow jazz that originated from "Moments In Love" before it became a stand alone track that went on to appear as the soundtrack to various TV commercials.
Their music was never a stranger to television as one of the most iconic theme tunes ever produced hit the airwaves in the shape of the "(Theme From) The Krypton Factor". This high energy track, a fan favourite for more than two decades is available here for the very first time in its original form, before it was developed into another track that appeared on the "In No Sense? Nonsense!" album, from which the quirky and bizarre "Ode To Don Jose" is taken. "Acton Art" is an edited down reprise of that album that sends the listener on an audio rollercoaster ride with a structure that defies conventional musical structure. In contrast to that, more traditional methods are used in the form of three orchestrated tracks "Promenade One", "Promenade Two" and "Finale" from the "Below The Waste" album, throwing a spanner into the works of any preconceived notion of what Art of Noise is, or should be.
Not just one spanner was thrown for the "The Seduction Of Claude Debussy" tracks, but a whole set of spanners with the odd socket set thrown in too as demonstrated in the tracks "Metaforce (featuring Rakim)" and "The Holy Egoism Of Genius". This time fusing together classical, operatic, house, drum & bass, narrative and even a rap on "Metaforce", once again defying any genre categorisation. And that is just the first CD subtitled "The A Side: singles, hits, soundtracks and collaborations" that also includes the single that never was "Something Is Missing" and the improvised live recording "A Is For Beginning".
Following on from the success of the aforementioned "And What Have You Done With My Body, God?" box set, and with the same care taken as on CD 1, the listener is transported into another dimension with CD 2 "The AA Side: unreleased experiments, before and after science". An alter ego to the first disc, this 66 minute chronology of completely previously unreleased material is a must have for any Art of Noise fan and it isn't too hard on the first time listener.
The first part is essentially recordings taken from the experiments from the original line-up: Anne Dudley, Trevor Horn, JJ Jeczalik, Gary Langan and Paul Morley. "Beep Beep" an alternative version of "Who's Afraid (Of The Art Of Noise)" makes one ask the question `Why weren't some of these tracks put out as singles?' "A Time For Fear (JJ's 12" Remix)" was planned as the follow up to "Moments In Love" of which two more versions appear, "Moments In Love (Anne To Tears Mix)" and "Moments In Love (The Monitor Mix)" (with Lucky Gordon). All of those tracks were recorded before Anne, JJ & Gary left ZTT to achieve greater success. The fruits of Trevor & Paul's labour as a spin-off group in 1986 can be heard with the two versions of "This Is Your Life" as Art & Act that was only rumoured to exist. "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" and "Cassandra" are the very last tracks recorded by Anne & JJ that were intended for use in an American feature film. The remainder of the disc sheds light onto the creation and development of the concept album "The Seduction Of Claude Debussy" with Lol Creme joining the Dudley/Horn/Morley line-up. The unreleased versions from this period, could have easily been released on the finished album. Although no versions from the pre-release CD appear here, it still makes for very interesting listening and shows how creative the group are/were. The quality of most of the unreleased tracks on this disc put the final finished products of many artists to shame. Spread throughout the disc are "Interlude..." tracks featuring spoken words by Trevor Horn and John Hurt. "Dainty" features Camilla Pilkington's recording sessions for the track "Who's Afraid (Of The Art Of Noise)" while "Beat Box (Diversion 3.4, Extracted)" is from an actual jamming session.
The packaging for "Influence" is first class including an eight-panel digipak to house the two CDs complete with a luxurious booklet that accompanies the set written by Ian Peel that also contains previously unpublished photographs of the group with contributions from Anne Dudley and Paul Morley. By ignoring and erasing from existence all of those so called `remixed interpretations' from the three cash-in remix albums (well at least on this album) becomes a pure joy to listen to, a work of art.