The Seduction Of Claude Debussy
ZTT / Universal Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/01/1999
Even if you're not a big fan of classical music, chances are you've at least heard of the piece "Clair De Lune" by Claude Debussy. Long ago, when I took piano lessons, it was one of the pieces that I had to learn, and though I was very much a butcher on the keyboards, sometimes I got it to the point where the piece's magic came through.
Even if you're not a big fan of dance music, chances are you've at least heard of the band Art Of Noise. First coming to fame in the '80s with their hit "Beat Box," they probably are best known for their cover of old what's-his-name's song "Kiss," featuring Tom Jones. But it's been some time since the world has heard from Trevor Horn and company, and for those who have been patiently waiting for some new output from the band, your wait is over.
The Seduction Of Claude Debussy is not so much a dance album as it is an ambient work in progress, an experience that must be sppreciated as a whole, not broken up into singles. You're not going to walk away with a greater respect for Debussy (as the music doesn't seem to deal with the composer himself), but courtesy of the spoken word, you'll at least know a little about the man, as well as a respect for the way he viewed music. Simply put, it's incredible.
The band - Horn, Lol Creme, Anne Dudley and Paul Morley - seem to have taken a page from the German group Enigma, whose debut album also seemed to put the focus on the whole picture rather than individual songs. With narration from John Hurt, and guest appearances from such artists as Donna Lewis, Sally Bradshaw, Carol Kenyon and Rakim, listening to this disc is almost like walking through an art gallery late at night, with only colored flourescent lighting guiding you along the way. It's both exciting and intriguing, and almost gives you an insight into what the musicians, like Debussy, was thinking along the creative path.
Tracks like "Dreaming In Colour," "Il Pleure (At The Turn Of The Century)" and "On Being Blue" all show how far Art Of Noise has come over the years, and how important their presence is on the music scene today. Granted, you're not going to hear a lot of these tracks on the radio, simply because program directors are probably ripping their hair out trying to figure out how to program these songs. Just the fact that the band created an album that de-emphasizes the hit single is a bold move, and in this case, one that works perfectly. (Whether Art Of Noise did this intentionally or not, I don't know... but I'd like to think the answer is "yes".)
Not surprisingly, most of the vocal work done on The Seduction Of Claude Debussy blends in with the ambience of the performances. It's almost impossible to tell when Lewis adds her part, or when any of the other guest musicians (who are too numerous to list in a review) add their contrbutions, but this actually works to the benefit of Art Of Noise, who are able to take the creations of others and fold them into the mix seamlessly.
There are, of course, two exceptions to this. Hurt's narration stands out on its own throughout the course of The Seduction Of Claude Debussy, as well it should, acting as a guidepost along a very strange, very beautiful journey. On the other hand, Rakim's raps seem to distract from the moments that the band tries to create, even though those moments are often the more alive, raucous ones on the disc. This isn't an indictment against Rakim's talents, but one questions why the band chose to add raps into this sort of a mix.
Fans of the "hit-single" Art Of Noise may flinch a bit at The Seduction Of Claude Debussy, but if given the right time and atmosphere - preferrably listened to in a dark room through headphones - the music will actually provide the light to brighten up the room. It's been a long time since any album I've listened to has been able to make such a claim. Art Of Noise might have been gone for a long time, but The Seduction Of Claude Debussy proves that the wait was well worth it.