Picks and Pans Review: In No Sense? Nonsense!

updated 12/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Art of Noise

Recent developments in musical technology make it possible to create any sound that can be imagined. As these albums—both well off the Top 40 beaten path—prove, some people have very fevered imaginations. Skinny Puppy, a Canadian trio made up of Nivek Ogre, Cevin Key and Dave Ogilvie, craft what they call "audio sculpture." (The three swear on a stack of Billboards those are their real names.) Of course, listeners might have other names for it. Like insanity. Over spikey synthesizer motifs and a jittery drum machine, Ogre chants and screams his lyrics. Strange, random sounds and echoes ricochet through the mix. Dialogue drifts in and out, like sounds from a TV set in an adjoining hotel room. The effect is like stepping into a nightmare being experienced by the Phantom of the Opera. As delivered by Ogre, the incomprehensible words offer more texture than sense. But the experience of Cleanse Fold and Manipulate (Capitol) becomes even stranger to anyone who reads the unpunctuated lyrics on the album sleeve and enters into their lurid mood. For example: "Within four walls scrape insect infested dreams cancer cornered worn accepting misery as a way of dealing within this complex fantasy." The creations of Skinny Puppy are too garish for extended exposure but, in small doses, they are extremely powerful. The Art of Noise also makes imaginative use of studio technology. On In No Sense? Nonsense! (Chrysalis), however, their approach has degenerated into little more than a parlor trick. That this album is a hasty stew of leftovers is signaled by the inclusion of songs from the movie sound tracks of Dragnet and Disorderlies. Anne Dudley and J.J. Jeczalik, the British duo who are the Art of Noise, have mixed sound effects (wind chimes, footsteps, voices), studio synthetics and sporadic snippets of music into a jumble that could come from a Martian beat box. The starkly natural Debut, recorded with only a real string section, stands out despite its bombastic melody and simplistic orchestration. On the more conventional songs, such as E.F.L. or Crusoe, AoN never approaches the lustrous sound achieved by Trevor Horn, who founded the group. At best this album contains moments that are diverting or clever, but little goes on beneath the frenetic surface.

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