Top positive review
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Top marks for an excellent value collection.
on 10 July 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.