In a decade in which the term oblique could have referred to a myriad of bands, the Art of Noise were the masters of subversion and experimentation. They spliced and diced, made bizarre videos and went as far as dissecting the concept of The Band As Four Lads Playing Traditional Instruments. In the Art of Noise’s peak, about 83-85, it wasn’t a case of either liking or hating them: you could quite rightly possess both feelings at the same time. They could be dazzlingly original, a bright spot in a time where the mainstream was the upstream, and/or they could be too damn clever for their boots. Songs, if they could be described as such, were a mesmerising symphony of beatboxes, mangled words and bustling melodies complimented by groundbreaking videos, that almost featured the band themselves. Close (To The Edit) – a Top 20 in the UK in 1984 no less – is a pop classic that is very much not a pop song. If that makes sense.
ZTT’s reissued packages give light to delights that have largely remained hidden in cardboard boxes in people’s attics. This is the first CD issue of the debut album and includes the original work- of course – and two live Radio One sessions, that permitted AoN the opportunity to experiment ever more.
The Art of Noise were as much of a visual feast with their part-animated videos and, fittingly, this package comes with an extra disk of footage. This means Close (To the Edit) appears four times, once as a cinematic version, while there’s a strange collaboration with Carry On star Kenneth Williams for that particular single in which he lovingly describes the song as “soooo cuddly”. Babs Windsor would wet her panties at hearing that line.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Liverpool (ZTT)
This double-disk re-release comes with stacks of extras from a band that ruled the world in the mid-1980s. No exaggeration, they had three successive number ones in the UK at a time when chart positions mattered. Better still, the first of those hits, Relax, was banned by the BBC and their videos were a trifle controversial.
The title was obviously a reference to their home city, but while you can applaud their parochial pride, it was never going to help boost sales in the States, or Australia. Or even Manchester.
The debut album was, and always will, remain Frankie’s diamond, despite some poor cover versions, lapses into instrumentalism and orgasmic sound affects befitting a soft-porn movie. Matching that monster success would be almost impossible and so it proved. The public had moved on, more than 18 months after their last release, but their edgier, stadium rock sound proved too much for most.
Liverpool bypassed the sty, and, listening to it a quarter of a century on, I can determine why. But we can also hear elements of this that make it an album that’s not nearly as bad as some of those critical reviews of the time made out.
The first single, Rage Hard, is a fist-pumping, paen to positivity, a gift to a city hit hard by Margaret Thatcher’s anti-worker attacks with little subtelty. Warriors of the Wasteland – a provisional album title – was the second single and the album opener, whereby Frankie vent their spleen against the divide-and-rule class society. It was too obvious, too blunt and resembled some of the mock-metal of the time. It was the first ‘flop’ single, if a top 20 single can be regarded as failure and the third, Watching the Wildlife, fared even worse.
One of the standouts, Lunar Bay, dispenses with the guitar and rock swagger in favour of synths and harmonies a plenty.
The extras, and there’s hectares of them, include indifferent covers of Suffragette City and the Doors’ Roadhouse Blues but their version of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction brilliantly turns the Stones’ original completely on its head. There’s also various remixes, and unreleased material.