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.
on 11 July 2010
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.
on 20 August 2010
I hesitated for about a week before buying this as I have always found Art Of Noise compilations somewhat disappointing but succumbed at the prospect of having the original single version of Close (to the Edit) finally on CD - even the recent-ish Ministry of Sound 80's Electronic Anthems comp used an abridged album version. I can clearly remember the evening I first saw AON perform this track on 'Top of the Pops' and I was just blown away and kept rewinding the video to watch again. I do regard this as one of the pivotal moments in my life that shaped my musical taste so, for me, Influence is a good title.
And this is a good collection too as disk one contains most (not all) of their single releases which it is such a pleasure to hear again (I had all their albums on vinyl which have, along with the record-player, long gone and only have In Visible Silence on CD) and disk two contains new to CD or unreleased tracks to appeal to the more serious collector. Like most compilations though, it is not quite perfect in my opinion. I don't understand why we have extended versions of Paranoimia and Metaforce on disk one as I do not feel they are an improvement over the single versions whereas the versions of Legs and Dragnet here are spot on; and of all the tracks from the In No Sense? Nonsense! period, why Acton Art?? It just doesn't flow as a track and, to me, belongs more on disk two.
My main criticism though is the issue of ZTT vs China records. The two ZTT albums obviously dominate the track listings and whilst that is completely understandable in the case of the incredible debut album, the other - The Seduction of Claude Debussy, though not without merit, was not a hit yet there is a lot of it here at, I feel, the expense of the China years.
That aside, this is still great influential music worth adding to your collection - for me, an absolute joy to hear again. And the packaging too with its reproduced artwork from over the years and a great booklet with lots of notes compiled by real enthusiast - what's not to like?
One final note - on Close (to the edit) here, I think there is still a slight difference at one point to the original 7" single or how I remember it - anyone any comments?
This is a lovingly put together, lavishly packaged 2-CD set showcasing some of the very best, and most commercially successful material from the influential Art of Noise, along with some other "bits and pieces" from their long and varied career. The two discs are housed in a four-way foldout digipack which also includes a 36 page booklet covering the content of the compliation, and including a number of good band/promo photos.
The first disc, called "The A Side" contains the hits, and has everything you would expect, unfortunately including the Tom Jones version of "Kiss" which to me never really stood up after the initial novelty wore off; compare that to the collaborations with Duane Eddy, and even Max Headroom, both of which have stood the test of time rather better. The other tracks include the likes of "Close (To The Edit)" and "Moments of Love", and it's certainly good to hear them all again.
The second disc, "The AA Side" is subtitiled "unreleased experiments, before and after science", and unfortunately that subtitle rather sums it up. Listening to it reminds you how self-indulgent AON could be. Paul Morley's voice is now so indelibly identified as a cultural vox-pop staple that it is difficult to listen to his somewhat pretentious monologue; many of the tracks on this second disc are unformed snippets, or ideas which never really took off, or simply somewhat contrived noodling (Rooty-tooty-tooty. What does it mean?); and as someone preferring the more electronic cound of the early AON, I found that there was too much pseudo-classical stuff here, in particular the frequent excerpts from their Debussey project. This might be all very well in Anne Dudley's later work, but as part of this package, I'm afraid it just disappointed.
If you are a casual AON fan, you would have been better served by a proper "Greatest Hits", with some of the better remixes of the best-known (and best-loved) tracks as extras, and rather more emphasis on the earlier material, and that's a project still to be delivered properly. Any AON compilation I've come across seems to rather fall between two stools, and unfortunately, so does this one.
The Art Of Noise were experimental and awkward. If you're looking for their real 'greatest hits' then you should probably track down their previous "The Best Of" album, but if you want a compilation that really sums up Art Of Noise very well, it's this one.
The first disc is the most accessible, containing almost all the singles, most of them in versions and edits that haven't been readily available on CD before, so even if you're an avid fan there will still be a few surprise middle-eights and twists and turns you're not familiar with. Unreleased tracks like "Something Is Missing" and the all-too-short "Krypton Factor Theme" also add something new.
The second disc is more random, and contains a variety of different unreleased bits and pieces that have somehow been unearthed from the studio vaults. Many of the pieces seem unfinished and unpolished but every single one is true Art Of Noise and it's a fascinating listen. Unlike the rather repetitive 4CD "And What Have You Done With My Body, God?" which contained an amazingly large number of versions of a small number of tracks, this also has enough variety and novelty to keep it interesting.
The sleeve notes are pretty thorough and explain the four versions of the Art Of Noise, with a few factual nuggets that give the whole AoN world some context, without indulging too much in the (let's be honest, pretentious) 'other language' used by Art Of Noise to describe themselves. I respect Paul Morley as a writer but as a pop star he can sound a bit embarrassing, and there are a couple of tracks on disc two that go beyond 'art' into, frankly, 'up his own a*se', but they're mercifully short, and the rest of the compilation is so good that even that can be forgiven.
Overall a great set that manages to feel both like a greatest hits album, but also like a new (old) Art Of Noise album at the same time- not to mention you get two discs for the price of one. Great.
on 18 December 2010
This is a great collection of rarities spanning much of their carreer. I must admit that i bought this out of interest as i had not been following them for years and really all i can truelly remember them for was their time on totps.They are an unusual lot but could be seen as being a creative bunch and this reflects more on the second disc with great piano bits and even what can be taken as an opera rehersal.The cover and inner artwork speak for themselves and that being creative and unusual.Disc 1 has many of the biggie hits but sadly this compilation does not have amelia the old old story on it which was one of my favs. It is still a good buy for the fans and perhaps may appeal to those who may want to sample somthing a little out of the ordinary.
on 18 June 2010
This Art Of Noise compilation is definitely welcome in a variety of ways. First, it contains the basic Art Of Noise hits, and, collaborations, but new to this compilation is the Theme From The Krypton Factor, and the Paranoid Mix of, Paranoimia. Both released onto CD for the first time. The only thing I would criticise about it is this could have been expanded from two to four discs to include more of the China/ZTT stuff including the live Hammersmith Odeon set.
There is the opportunity for Salvo/ZTT to release the entire AON China back-catalogue in expanded sets. In Visible Silence (1986), Re-Works Of Art Of Noise (1986), In No Sense! Nonsense (1987), Below The Waste (1989), and The Ambient Collection (1990) over the next year or two.
Tracks like : Legs (Inside Leg Mix), and (Last Leg Mix), Hoops And Mallets, Opus 3, Why Me?, A Nation Rejects, and so forth.
The only omission is the track Legacy, but its still well worth a listen.
on 20 July 2010
well, not quite. Yebo (with Mahotello and the Malathini Queens) seems to be missing. still, not a bad collection and certain to liven up any party!
on 16 December 2010
I used to mad about this group and wanted to re-ignite some of the feeling three (is it?) decades later. Sadly this killed it. The re-worked versions of the tracks like Paranoimia (features pointless generic session guitar strumming) are horrible, middle-of-the-road things and the further along the album the more boring in becomes. The extras disk is interesting but I found the programming annoying - it's a very bitty cut.
on 22 August 2010
As part of the ZTT (Zang Tumm Tumm) record label stable, Art Of Noise pioneered new sounds in the mid-1980s and were largely responsible of the regulation "big drum sound" every hit song had to have at the time. Over these two CDs, you will find most of the hit singles by Art Of Noise and then some. Of said hits, two or three pass the test of time: Close To The Edit, Moments In Love - though the version(s) of that last track here are not the best - and Peter Gunn. Alas, most of the non hit tracks are not that indispensable. At the end of the day, a one CD compilation of the singles is a better choice for the casual listener and this compilation is probably strictly for fans.