A brief contemplation of the unexpected new Art Of Noise album, The Seduction Of Claude Debussy.

The short version.

1. Find this disc
2. Purchase it
3. Bliss!

Drop what you're doing and go shell out your fourteen dollars plus tax while it's still at the new release price. The Noise is older, but they have aged like fine wine. The masters are returned.

The long version.

"What if they've lost it?" They haven't.

"What if it's just like their eighties stuff?" It isn't.

"Can it be as good now that we're used to samples?" Oh yes.

"Can it live up to my expectations?" Yes, yes, YES.

Any band reuniting has these sorts of questions to answer, especially one who blazed as many trails as the Art of Noise. Sure, they didn't invent electronic music; they were far from the first to explore it... but they, more than anyone else, saw how it could transcend the world of rock 'n' roll, and laid out the myriad possibilities in their shatteringly-original albums. It's arguable that the whole 'electronica' scene is merely endless refinements of the Art of Noise. And time has not been kind to the early carriers of the flag of electric music; remember how horribly mellowed Thos. Dolby's Astronauts & Heretics was? Or the way Kraftwerk and Devo have become sad caricatures of themselves?

But the Art of Noise continues, really, to be the same thing at their core that they always were - reinvention. The new album is as fresh as the first time I heard "Beatbox Diversion One" or "Paranomia". It's just fresh in an entirely different way.

Quoting from the booklet:

The Seduction Of Claude Debussy... music from quite another film that never existed... featuring john hurt speaking, sally bradshaw singing, claude debussy ghosting, rakim rapping, and charles baudelaire tripping.

played, pretended and seduced by the art of noise
the art of noise play themselves
lol creme (guitar, voice and keyboards) plays himself
anne dudley (piano, orchestral arrangements, voice and keyboards) plays herself
trevor horn (bass, voice and keyboards) plays himself
paul morley (metaphors, voice and keyboards) plays himself

The Art of Noise have grown up. The Seduction Of Claude Debussy is a genuine 'concept album'... and in typical AON fashion, it's a confusing, idiosyncratic, mysterious sort of concept album. At various points, it's meditative, playful, evocative, hyperkinetic, sorrowful, happy, mysterious, danceable, involuted, and... mature. Often all at the same time.

AON have looked upon their myriad stepchildren and smiled - this album has fragments of just about every way that electronic music has scattered since AON outlined the possibilities of technology in broad, sweeping strokes. Drum and bass, noisecore, breakbeat, ambient, industrial, jungle, darkwave, house; it's all in there, flowing smoothly from one flavor to another, refusing, as always, to be confined by any narrow label. But this is an older, wiser AON than the brash young upstarts that defied the rock-star mentality with stark, minimal arrangements of VW Bug starters, ruler-flicks, and a coy refusal to become visual icons - even 'electronic music' is perhaps too narrow a label to slap on this album; as its title suggests, there's a heavy dose of 'classical' sensibility, with delicate piano-work in continual contrast to the lush tapestry of sounds. I'm really looking forward to seeing what I discover in repeated listenings; this is written after my first experience with the album.

The Seduction Of Claude Debussy is completely free of the coy technophilia and childishness that we're so used to in electronic music. There are playful moments, but the Art Of Noise is always in command of their machines, not the other way around. They've been at it more than long enough to become comfortable with what their tools can do, and stop doing the sonic equivalant of lens-flares and embossing for its own sake. There are a few smiling nudges in the side to those of us who had our skulls opened up and brains rearranged by AON's early work, but Debussy stands perfectly well on its own, even without the hallowed name on the cover. It's not as overtly revolutionary an album as Who's Afraid Of (The Art Of Noise) - that will have to wait for another fundamental change in the way music is made - but it's damn close. It's adult, it's mature, it's complex, it's many-layered, it's the Art of Noise, as unruly and mysterious as ever, fifteen years later.

Buy it. Bring it home. Make sure your stereo is clean. Turn off the phone. Let everyone know that you're not to be disturbed for the next hour or two. And marvel in awe as the Art of Noise prove that they can still surprise.

- june 30, 1999
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