Who's Afraid Of...

The Art of Noise

ZTT4509-94746-2, 1984
A Time for Fear (Who's Afraid) [Dudley/Jeczalik/Langan/Morley] *****
Beat Box (Diversion One) [Dudley/Horn/Jeczalik/Langan/Morley] ****
Snapshot [Jeczalik/Langan/Morley] ****
Close (to the Edit) [Dudley/Horn/Jeczalik/Langan/Morley] ****
Who's Afraid (of the Art of Noise) [Dudley/Jeczalik/Morley] ****
Moments in Love [Dudley/Horn/Jeczalik/Langan/Morley] ***
How to Kill [Dudley/Horn/Jeczalik/Langan/Morley] ***
Realization [Jeczalik/Morley/Horn] ***

Recorded between 28 Feb 83-1 Apr 84
Produced by the Art of Noise

Anne Dudley: electronic equipment, ?vocals
Trevor Horn: electronic equipment, vocals
J.J. Jeczalik: electronic equipment
Gary Langan: electronic equipment
Paul Morley: art direction

Musique concrete goes pop: the Art of Noise. Despite ZTT's commercial image, the Art of Noise was the label's art side. While mixing and sampling were still young, they constructed sound collages with enough pop sensibility that you could still dance to them... well, some of the time.

There was a message behind the Buggles' titles: The Plastic Age, Adventures in Modern Recording, "Technopop"... New technology was soon to open new possibilities. Horn's first work after Drama and Yes, completing the second Buggles album, Adventures in Modern Recording, saw him working with a new team, including Anne Dudley. Horn et al.—soon as Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT)—began to integrate these new technologies into popular music, as can be heard on albums like Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasure Dome or Propaganda's A Secret Wish/Wishful Thinking, but it is in the Art of Noise that the new technologies were set loose.

Apart from the commercial hype applied to other ZTT creations, Who's Afraid of is aiming for "art rock" more than popular success. Sadly the album falls just short of either aim. There is a mix of pieces. Concise sound collages like "Snapshot", "Momento", "How to Kill" and "Realization" are quite good, but fail to match historical predecessors. Longer pieces try to mix melody and rhythm with sonic experimentation: a collage around a tune. In smaller doses, the ZTT team had achieved considerable success with this strategy. Yes's biggest ever hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart", is full of such quirky touches from Horn. Later works—later Art of Noise or Horn's production on the Pet Shop Boys' Introspective, for example—would show a better integration of sounds and songs. On Who's Afraid of, the results on pieces like "Beat Box (Diversion One)" or "Moments in Love" do not quite flow: too jerky with no purpose. These two are also the longest pieces on the album and fail to keep the listener interested for the duration. "Moments in Love" should have taken after its title instead of the 10:14 here.

Yet, at best, a piece like "A Time to Fear (Who's Afraid)" gives us a tune and a noise sculpture and even thought-provoking lyrics about and war. "Close (to the Edit)" is a similar success, if in a more humorous vein, the title surely a play on Yes's "Close to the Edge".

For an album that pioneered sampling, Who's Afraid of suffers the ultimate irony and is the source of the Art of Noise sample used by The Prodigy on their hit "Firestarter".

Henry Potts, 29 Nov 96; revised 22 Oct 2005

Originally posted to alt.music.synthpop, alt.music.yes, rec.music.progressive and rec.music.reviews .

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