The Art Of Noise - In Visible Silence album review

Once state-of-the-art noise is remastered, with (literally) bells on

The Art Of Noise - In Visible Silence album artwork

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It seems fantastical now that in the mid-80s it was unexceptional for a pop record to incorporate sound collages, swathes of cinematic grandeur and casual references to writers and philosophers. Yet in the corner of the charts blasted open by label ZTT, such genius – or pretension, depending on your stance – was de rigeur. By 1986 The Art Of Noise had already split from ZTT, Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, and consisted now of Anne Dudley, Clive Langan and JJ Jeczalik. Those departed hissed dismissively of their avant-garde anti-group “going off to have novelty hits with Tom Jones” but this, the second full album, remains exploratory and eccentric. The factions later kissed and made up, though just the trio who made this album will perform it this summer.

It was the age of the Fairlight sampler, which they’d first meddled with during the sessions for Yes’ 90125. Here, the three residual Arties had the gumption to retain Morley’s penchant for dropping in sampled quotes and spoken word, but pushed further into a pristine, clinical notion of dance grooves. These underscored the bleeps, bicycle bells, whistles and echoes the new technology offered them. The joy they took in their oh-so-modern playground might come across as naïve now, and they do over-egg the pudding in parts. Yet they hit on an odd knack for accessibility: the album sold a million, and fluked hit singles in Peter Gunn (featuring its originator Duane Eddy), which won a Grammy, and Paranoimia, on which CGI character Max Headroom guested, saying things like, ‘Poetry? Doesn’t even rhyme.’ Legs, too, was a hit, tapping into the beatbox craze. For US critics, this is where AoN found their stride; Brits were divided as to whether they were selling out or trading up. The album’s a head-spinning time capsule in itself, but this two-disc deluxe reissue adds singles, a wealth of The Making Of out-takes and multiple 12-inch mixes. Now retro-electro, this was once the dazzling future.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.