Review Summary: A tidal wave of relentless oddball electronic experimentalism, The Art of Noise produce a listening experience like no others.
Most of the time music operates within boundaries. Boundaries that define the sound of the product, be that a definition of style, theme or genre. Sometimes this adherence to boundaries and limitations produces perfectly pleasurable listening experiences that, whilst sitting comfortably in an easily categoriseable genre, are completely successful. It’s not that fitting in a genre is a problem at all (far from it, in fact), but rather the inarguable fact that it can sometimes lead to a lack of experimentation and playfulness. So when ‘The Art of Noise’ released their full length debut LP in 1984, featuring nine utterly eclectic tracks that tampered with sound like few others, it was immediately clear that ’(Who’s Afraid of?) The Art of Noise!’ was something out of the ordinary.
‘The Art of Noise’ didn’t do simple, melodic pop music. They instead opted to play with sound like a cat plays with a ball of string - endlessly toying with it, never losing excitement or becoming bored. Anne Dudley and co. created a sense of frenetic uncertainty for listeners, swamping each track with so many samples, beats, rhythms and sheer oddities that it becomes difficult to ignore the exciting sensation of never knowing what sound is around the corner. It’s evident right from start to finish, including the opener, ’A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid)’, introducing a blast of sleazy saxophone out of nowhere, only for it to disappear 10 seconds later, or the brilliant ’Beat Box (Diversion One)’, with what sounds like a distorted sample of a noisy car engine buzzing away in the dense background. Why these and countless other elements intrude without explanation? Who the Hell knows? It doesn’t matter because it’s unimportant - these aren’t easy pop songs - they’re complex soundboards of chaotic, oddball electronic experimentation.
‘(Who’s Afraid of?) The Art of Noise!’ never lets up its unrelenting experimentation, but also shows it’s intelligence, knowing how to pace itself with shorter, although nonetheless compelling tracks, like ‘Snapshot’ and ‘Momento’ appearing after lengthy, sprightly numbers like ‘Beat Box (Diversion One)’. An album of instrumental, experimentation is difficult to describe compared to ordinary pop songs with hooks and emotional connection points, other than to fire out a list of adjectives that jump to mind when pondering each track: It’s a bonkers, mad, ridiculous, odd, curious, funny, surprising, exciting and more than anything, amazing album.
Having already pointed out the unexpected nature of the album (as each track floats by spawning endless odd sound bites) it shouldn’t be a surprise that over half way in, after the eerie title track draws to a close, a completely left-field simple beat driven tune arrives in the form of ’Moments in Love’ - undoubtedly the standout track on album of many highs. It shouldn’t be a surprise but it is, with its downright seductive and sophisticated melody it sounds unlike anything else on the record, hence it’s surprise factor. But the more you think of it the more it makes sense and becomes easier to digest - this is an album full of unexpected turns and twists so why should be a surprise? The track itself takes a turn for the peculiar, when after 6 or 7 minutes it decides to thrown in an odd moans and groans chorus before fading back to its infectious rhythm. And that in itself is a perfect summation of this groundbreaking release. It’s a listening experience like no other, constantly pushing new ideas and sounds into its thick, layered collage of oddball noise. Overall, ‘(Who’s Afraid of?) The Art of Noise!‘ is highly recommend to those who wish to sink into an increasingly odd yet consistently compelling wave of early 80’s electronic experimentalism.