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Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise? / Deluxe CD+DVD Edition Review

Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise / Deluxe Edition Review
Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise…

…Or should that be (Who’s Afraid?) Of the Art of Noise?

The distinction is subtle, but important. Issues such as these have kept me awake at night over the years. A similar preoccupation is “what happened to CTIS104?”, the ‘missing’ cassette single (“cassingle”) in a run which started with Into Battle with Art of Noise (CTIS100), took in Frankie singles such as Two Tribes (“Keep the Peace – a cassette celebration” CTIS103) and ended with Act’s Snobbery & Decay (Cabaret-Cassette CTIS25).

This is a condition I like to call ZTT-syndrome. An obsession with minutiae related to the record releases of Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT), that most ‘eighties’ of record labels, best known for bringing us Frankie Goes to Hollywood (“it was a pleasure”).

If none of this is resonating, then it’s probably time to cut to the chase. The Art of Noise’s only official studio album in the ZTT-era – 1984’s Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise? – is today reissued as part of the ZTT/Salvo Records ongoing archive campaign (#17 in the element series).

Having released the Into Battle EP special edition earlier this year, which contained a work-in-progress version of the Who’s Afraid? album (known as the Worship Sessions) we are now served up with a deluxe edition of the album-proper.

There were minor criticisms from some quarters (including here) for ZTT playing fast and loose with the phrase “previously unreleased” when it came to some of the alternates and remixes on the Into Battle… reissue. But hey, that was then, and this is now. Wounds heal.

For this release, the remix cupboard has remained firmly closed (although I very much doubt that ZTT archivist, Ian Peel, found it bare) and our attentions are focussed largely on live/ in-session tracks and, via a bonus DVD, the visual side of a band, who were all but anonymous to the public at large back in 1984.

To recap: Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Gary Langan and J.J. Jeczalik were the musicans/producers in the band. Music journalist, Paul Morley, was the fifth, crucial, non-musical member, controlling image, packaging, song titles and generally deciding what was ‘Art of Noise’ and what wasn’t (see Close (to the Edit) videos 1 and 2 on the DVD to understand this better). For the completely uninitiated, there are no singers and these are not songs. The Fairlight CMI sampler and ‘the studio’ were the tools at hand and the music can be probably be inaccurately described using the words avant garde, urban, technology, dance, and sound collage.

The 9-track album is more familiar than might be expected, thanks to the remarkable performance of single Close (To The Edit) which penetrated the UK Top 10 in 1984. In addition, most people will know Moments in Love, even if from that uncoolest of all jukeboxes – the TV ad. These two tracks, plus Beatbox (Diversion One), are the high points of the album, the pillars that support it and allow you to forgive some of it’s more narcissist moments. A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid?) and How to Kill are also both memorable, but the footsteps and religious overtones of Memento may score points for atmosphere, but the moody pulsating beats of the superior Donna should have found a home on this record (like Beatbox and Moments in Love, Donna forms part of the Into Battle EP but didn’t end up on the LP).

But let’s not forget this is a deluxe reissue of the original. It turns out that Donna does indeed make an appearance on this new edition, not that you would notice it from looking at the track listing. In true Art of Noise fashion, it’s retitled and performed ‘live’ as From Science to Silence on the Janice Long BBC Radio One session (track 16).

Live tracks

Obviously the Art of Noise were not a normal band. It seems rather contradictory to eschew traditional instruments and approaches to recording music and then to do a BBC live session.

However, the session with BBC Radio One’s Richard Skinner turns out to be very entertaining. They ‘perform’ Close (to the Edit) and Moments in Love with enough elements clearly live, to keep you listening (“to be in England…with Paul Morley”). The “Smashie & Nicey” patter of Mr Skinner as he talks to the band and his wonderment as Gary samples his voice (“Saturday Live!”) is hilarious. And the interview (track 12 – Exploring the Jungle) is a chaotic delight. Morley laughingly chides Anne Dudley, for offering a straight-laced explanation of the bands genesis (“we worked with Yes and Dollar…”).

The Janice Long session tracks aren’t quite as good but overall these live tracks are a much better-than-expected addition to the album, and offer us a sneaky glimpse of the personalities within the band.

 DVD – A Feast of Reason

If there is one thing that comes across strongly from watching this DVD it’s how the moving image dates much more than sound and music. So the almost 30-year old footage of London (filmed by Anton Corbijn) gives us images of punks with mohicans, city gents in bowler hats and bobbies on the beat. Charming – nostalgic even – but dated. Whereas, the music accompanying it (Beatbox), sounds fresh and timeless.

Close (to the Edit) is well represented by four promos, albeit three are different edits of the same video. Paul Morley rejected the first video, which must have seemed very harsh, because it’s excellent. The second is less memorable but the collage-style does work well with the music.

A sign of the times is that not only was the Close (to the Edit) single advertised on TV, the advert specifically mentions the cassette single (“singlette”) and the tortoise-shaped picture disc! These days budgets don’t even stretch to release singles as physical product never mind expensive TV marketing campaigns.

An Art of Noise live at The Value of Entertainment from June 1985, is the other content of note. Originally released on VHS, this could be more accurately described as Paul Morley talking and some dancers with Art of Noise masks. Dudley, Jeczalik, and Langan had left the band shortly before this showcase and Morley had to make the best of it.

The DVD contains most of the content you might expect, but there is one big missed opportunity. They should have included the 5.1 surround sound mixes, which were created for the Daft SACD back in 2003. Yes, the whole of Who’s Afraid? exists in 5.1 and this deluxe edition comes with the DVD required to provide 5.1 mixes (albeit not hi-res). It’s frustrating that this wasn’t included – the work has been done, and that particular SACD commands very high prices on the used market.

Summary

1984 has always been the ‘best’ year of the eighties for music. The fact that this album was released in that year strongly supports this assertion. Who’s Afraid? is the album that you’d want to put in the time capsule for posterity to demonstrate the very best of what the band were capable of. In truth, with their first Into Battle EP, they almost hit a home run immediately, but of course that record lacks Close (to the Edit), making Who’s Afraid? the essential Art of Noise purchase.

 Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise Deluxe Edition is out now on ZTT/Salvo

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One response to Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise? / Deluxe CD+DVD Edition Review

  1. Steve Marine says:

    Thank you for your review. I love ZTT and I especially love their Element Series of re-releases. Can’t wait to get myself a copy of this!

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