ART OF NOISE: BELOW THE WASTE (1989)
1) Dan Dare; 2) Yebo!; 3) Catwalk; 4) Promenade 1; 5) Dilemma; 6) Island; 7) Chang Gang; 8) Promenade 2; 9) Back To Back; 10) Flashback; 11) Spit; 12) Robinson Crusoe; 13) James Bond Theme; 14) Finale.
Paul Morley never had much respect for Art Of Noise and their work since he left the project in 1985. Obviously, he had a certain right to be pissed; and when his former colleagues scored their biggest commercial hit (a cover of Prince's 'Kiss') in the form of a collaboration with Tom Jones, he had himself a golden pretext to dismiss them in interviews as sellouts and novelty goons. Then out came Below The Waste, an album that showed maybe about a third of the inventiveness and maybe about a thirty-third of the humor of their glory days, and then The Art Of Noise was shot down, burned, and buried by popular and critical opinion alike. Leading them into disbanding the following year, disgruntled and confused.
The ultimate irony of it all, of course, is that it was exactly the Morley/Horne years when the project was a true «novelty» act. Throughout all of the four years that they spent free of their artistic gurus' domination, Dudley and Jeczalik had been trying to find the ideal middle ground between crazy cutting-floor wizardry and common appeal; ultimately, they did not succeed, and ended up with curses from hardcore fans and relative indifference from the general public. But they tried all the way, and Below The Waste, be it or not their weakest original-period album, by no means shows any slackening of the spirits.
It is different, and arguably the most «accessible» of all their albums, in the sense that there is almost no «sonic hooliganry» going on anywhere. The individual tracks are melodic, semi-live, semi-electronic compositions, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes rocking out, and they go real easy on sampling, copying, and pasting. 'Yebo!' lasts all of seven minutes, and all of them essentially on the same groove — a thing unheard of in the early days. Play it all at mid-level volume and even the most generically-oriented of your buddies may remain unstimulated to ask the sacred question of «what the fuck is that shit». No question about it: the original ideology of the band has been shelved. Art Of Noise? More like Art Of Nice, if you ask me.
All that remains is take Below The Waste on its terms and see if it helps. I have always believed that it actually does. There is moody filler, of course, but there are also compositions that have a life of their own. For one thing, this is the only spot in their career where they were trying to actively toy with «world music», incorporating various ethnic elements into the usual electronic framework. This is especially characteristic of the first two tracks. 'Dan Dare' has much less to do with The Pilot Of The Future than it has to do with an odd mix of African tribal chants, North Indian war cries, Andean panflutes, and quite European classical strings arrangements (I may be exaggerating the diversity a bit, but that the tune is chockfull of syncretism is inarguable).
'Yebo!' is even better, and, I dare say, one of the ultimate classics of the entire «world music» craze. With vocals provided by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, a world-famous Zulu band ('Yebo!' means 'yes' in Zulu, in case you wanted to know), it somehow manages to respect and send up the trend at the same time — they set up a captivating dance groove, load it with a catchy Bantu vocal melody, then loop it all up in ridiculous proportions. The most seductive thing about it is that there is none of that in-your-face kowtowing before the sacred age-deep wisdom of the Tribal Elders that makes so much of «world music» from the likes of Paul Simon or Sting such an intolerable bore, none of that fake reverence that prevents you from sucking in musical influences with the best of all goals — to have fun. 'Yebo!' is fun, from head to toe.
African and other tribal elements pop up on 'Dilemma', 'Chang Gang', and 'Spit' as well, but the assault is not as focused on these tracks as on 'Yebo!'; besides, they are heavily interspersed with pure, and somewhat fillerish, mood pieces ('Island', 'Robinson Crusoe'). The band also came under heavy fire for including their interpretation of the James Bond theme — five minutes of electronic surf-rock that, for many listeners, seemed to have become an unpleasant overload of all things Bond-related. (It might not have been such a total coincidence that the year's Bond movie, License To Kill, is recognized as one of the least financially successful in the franchise; perhaps the same people who hated Timothy Dalton took this hatred one step further?). I would say that 'The James Bond Theme' is, indeed, the most «novelty»-like track on the album, but I still like all the weird things they did with it — for instance, how they begin with a very faithful rendition, then proceed to completely deconstruct the thing in the middle, and then make it interbreed with elements of free jazz for a change.
Overall, Below The Waste is like totally that particular type of record that is going to be actively hated by 20% of the people, actively ignored by 78% of the people, and liked by about 2% that happen to include this here reviewer — a «compromising» album in a world mostly populated by people that don't give a shit about the complex art of compromising. 'Yebo!' alone is enough to guarantee it a heartfelt thumbs up, and then they're raised further up through reasonable analysis that states it a federal crime to condemn albums so cleverly conceived and executed.
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