the success of its predecessor, Zang Tuum Tumb releases its first
ever compilation to run a second volume – featuring extended
versions of tracks from the label’s back catalogue.
founded in 1983 by journalist Paul Morley, producer Trevor Horn and
Jill Sinclair is renowned for propagating an era in pop led by the
invention of the music sampler. Horn was the creative element behind
the label, employing the digital technology of the Fairlight and Synclavier
to create an electronic ‘sound’ that was somewhat unique
to the period and tarred the brush over virtually every production
that was emitted by the label.
One of the few acts it did not tar, however, was Frankie Goes to Hollywood,
whose giant hit Two Tribes is on show here in all its fluid 15-minute
glory. I say fluid, because the song itself so perfectly balanced
the dawn of the sampling era with FGTH’s pristine rock aesthetic
– although this version rather crudely bolts together everything
that was mixed in the studio on every version ever released.
Other acts that superseded the constraints of the technology of that
time include Godley & Crème with the 6.33 version of the
beautifully sung, Cry and Scritti Politti’s superbly produced
power-pop classic, Absolute (6.13). Both tracks deliver timeless pop.
If any track signifies the production ethic behind ZTT during the
mid-eighties period, it’s the Art of Noise track Close Up (a
7.41 mix of the single Close (to the Edit)) – with its sampled
VW Golf engine stalls and excessively powerful and static drum programming.
This version features some rather horrible piano playing and overdoses
on effects. The ‘Edit’ was far superior.
It’s this production style that makes The Art of 12. Vol. 2
a particularly difficult revisit. The production, for the vast majority
of the album – across a variety of tracks, is bone dry and ear-bleedingly
brittle. It may have been the fashion at the time, but it’s
very hard to adjust to now. And while the whole idea behind the album
is the extended remix, this wasn’t an age where remixes were
particularly well made or received – they usually consisted
of clumsily bolted on verses and choruses with sloppily added effects
that maimed the fluidity of the tracks they were supposedly enhancing.
The short, biting pop songs that had faired well enough to earn remix
treatment became somewhat ruined in doing so – and very few
escape that ruination.
A case perhaps of clearing the attic, The Art of 12. Vol. 2 features
many a track that should have stayed on a disk in a dusty box somewhere.
The asinine beats and embarrassingly OTT vocals of Paul McCartney’s
failed experiment Spies Like Us is cringeworthy and cannot be saved
by an Art of Noise Remix, OMD’s Julia’s Song is far from
the duo’s best work and Propaganda’s Dr Mabuse der Spieler
(An International Incident) is an unlistenably crude pastiche of malformed
ideas. Even 808 State Vs. Art of Noise Moments in Love (Massey Mix
Three) sounds like a bad parody of what was a memorable original.
Other inclusions from
acts such as Instinct (Swamp Down), Thomas Leer (Heartbeat), Act Chance
(Whammy Mix), Nasty Rox Inc. What It Is (Live Instrumental Wonder),
do not do the label any favours in retrospect, although Mint Juleps
- Every Kinda People (Parts I, II and III) hints of a jazz-tinged
soulfulness and humanity that ZTT might have been better off employing
when remixing other acts on the label.
Rather than a celebration
of the 12” single, The Art of 12, Vol. 2 sounds more like a
damnation of not only some excellent original tracks but the remix
era itself. Not entirely the label’s fault by any means –
they were bravely wrestling with pushing through brand new technology
at the time, but the only value here is historic.