Album + Compilation
Art of Noise. If ever there was a band/concept/thing that was so completely brilliant in its essence, and reached its apogee with its first album, it's them/it. Their debut, Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise, encapsulated everything in its nine tracks. If they'd vanished immediately afterwards, it would've been a Never Mind the Bollocks-style statement of when hip hop met Dadaism and rammed the Fairlight centre stage while japing around with masks and spanners. It spoke of the beginning of a whole new world during the mid-80s, during the period between the post new-pop fall-out and seriousface issues-based stadiumness. It was of its time and yet still way ahead of it.
Influence sees the band - who were essentially composer Anne Dudley, multi-instrumentalists JJ Jeczalik and Gary Langan, along with producer Trevor Horn and journalist/ZTT minister of information and spin Paul Morley, and later Lol Creme - chart their journey through their hits on disc one and throw up bits and bobs from their cupboard of rare things on disc two. Naturally, the early hits are all here: Close (To the Edit), Moments in Love and Beat Box, and then it proceeds consecutively through difficult second album In Visible Silence with the previously-never-on-CD Legs getting an airing and the impressive Duane Eddy hook-up of Peter Gunn. Then it gets a bit sticky; Paranoimia with vocals from Max Headroom is none-more-80s, and the less said about the reanimating of Tom Jones for a version of Prince's Kiss - taking it from a subtle saucy funk to a blustery strip-night horror should've been punishable by death - the better. They did recover some form with the Rakim-assisted Metaforce and its accompanying album The Seduction of Claude Debussy, but the early magic wasn't quite there anymore.
The second disc, with its unreleased mixes, experimental scraps, John Hurt narrations and doodahs, is pleasant enough, but you do sense that a lot of incredible stuff has been left off due to either being lost to time or - hopefully - because it's being saved for a colossal repackage of the debut. However, let's not dwell on the negatives: this is a handy overview of an amazing yet frustrating band, and there's more genius on display in its first few tracks than some acts manage in a lifetime. If that encourages today's pop generation to explore and develop new music, then Influence will have done its job.