The Art of Noise played an important role in the development of my music tastes. I was in 8th grade when "Legs" became a radio hit, and I was intrigued by an instrumental group using found sounds as musical timbres.
It didn’t take much of a leap to go from Art of Noise to Kronos Quartet and eventually, a century’s worth of modern classical music.
And yet, the Art of Noise wasn’t that much artful, nor was it much noise. My siblings would argue otherwise, though.
In Visible Silence and In No Sense? Nonsense! were all I needed from the Art of Noise. I didn’t get the impression Below the Waste was worth the effort, and a 7-inch single I bought with "Close (to the Edit)" and "Beat Box (Diversion One)" didn’t convince me to investigate (Who’s Afraid of …?) The Art of Noise!
But Daft, a collection of the group’s early works, was recently remastered and reissued, and it contains all of (Who’s Afraid of …?) The Art of Noise!, an album with a far lasting reputation than the ones I favored.
So what’s the big deal?
Strangely enough, (Who’s Afraid of …?) The Art of Noise! is the band’s strongest and most coherent album. At the same time, most of the album contains filler to frame the three big singles from the album — "Beat Box", "Close (to the Edit)" and "Moments in Love".
Those three tracks — "Moments" and "Beat Box" in particular — occupy the most real estate on the album.
Just how did the Art of Noise manage to craft such a tight work with so little content? In this case, the whole is greater because the parts add up.
The overall momentum of the album is incredibly balanced. At 8’32", "Beat Box (Diversion One)" is already a bit long-winded. If the following track, "Snap Shot", were any longer than 1’02", it would have felt demanding.
After a track as epically introspective as "Moments in Love", there wasn’t anything else the album could do but wind down. So each of the remaining tracks last no longer than 3 minutes.
Even "A Time to Fear (Who’s Afraid)" feels more like a prelude than an overture.
In essence, (Who’s Afraid of …?) The Art of Noise! is a suite. Anne Dudley’s classical training comes in really handy for her here.
But the most impressive aspect of the album — perhaps the thing that gives it such longevity — is this precarious balance between avant-garde and pop. (Who’s Afraid …?) is indeed dance music, but the imaginative sense of timbre sets it apart.
Subsequent albums lost its sense of dance and got increasingly obscure. I dug them all the same, but (Who’s Afraid …) is where it all came together.
There’s still a sense of being cheated once you discover just how little music there is on the album, but it’s mitigated by the fact any alteration to its structure would diminish it.
(Who’s Afraid of …?) The Art of Noise! is good because it is such a conundrum.