April 14 – Max Added Quirk To The Already Unusual Art

Whether we’re talking fashion or music, the 1980s were an eclectic, difficult to pigeon-hole decade. And one of the most eclectic, difficult to describe bands had a big day 36 years back – the Art of Noise released their second and most-successful album, In Visible Silence. The 1986 release came about three years after they first formed, having met working together in the studio for producer Trevor Horn (of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Buggles fame.)

They’d originally signed to Horn’s ZTT Records and included Trevor and his right-hand man Paul Morley in their roster – difficult to pin down as that is, since the band was designed to be a “faceless non-group” – but by this time, they’d moved on to Chrysalis Records and left Horn and Morley behind. That left a core trio of Anne Dudley, Clive Langan and JJ Jeczalik. All three could play keyboards and were fascinated by Fairlight samplers and the idea of musical sampling and incorporating “found sounds” – anything from bike bells to bird chirps to snippets of speeches – into their danceable grooves. It was a difficult sound to fully describe since there were few direct counterparts on the radio, but it was identifiable and did very well on dance floors and college radio stations.

They self-produced In Visible Silence and came up with an album of 11 songs over 50 minutes. Though the sound was somewhat cohesive, the songs were varied in other ways. Two ran less than a minute and a half, two went over seven. And even the concept of the album was rather fluid; they released slightly different versions with some having different mixes of some of the songs, and some having added remixes included. They all did include the three singles off it though; “Legs” (not the ZZ Top one); “Paranoimia” and their take on the “Peter Gunn Theme.” For the latter, they brought back the original guitarist that made it famous, Duane Eddy, providing his career with a little boost decades in. “Paranoimia” was the oddest of the lot, and one of the oddest hits of the whole decade, a jittery dance bit overlain with spoken bits from another ’80s oddity, computer-generated TV “personality” Max Headroom. Suffice to say if you were trying to explain it all to a Gen Z kid, you’re best bet would be to say “it was the ’80s” and leave it at that! In the popular single mix, he complains about not being able to sleep; in some extended mixes he introduces the band…including The Pope on drums.

LouderSound looked back on the album a few years back and actually liked it – surprising given their propensity to favor hard rock sounds. They noted the band “remain exploratory and eccentric” and although they had a “penchant for dropping in sample quotes and spoken word…pushed further into a pristine, clinical notion of dance (they) hit on an odd knack for accessibility.” Allmusic rated it 3-stars, calling it the album where they “hit their stride” with their “distinctively post-modern soundscapes.”

Peter Gunn Theme” and “Paranoimia” were both decent-sized hits far and wide. The Duane Eddy-enhanced “Peter Gunn Theme” in fact became their second top 10 in the UK, got to #3 in New Zealand, #14 in Canada and while missing the top 40 in the U.S., it did rise to #2 on Billboard‘s dance chart. “Paranoimia” p-p-pushed its way into the top 40 in both Canada and the States. Overall the album hit #18 in the UK, #16 in Canada and #53 in the U.S., the best showing for any of their albums. It went on to sell over a million copies. Sometimes being odd and unique does indeed pay off.

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9 thoughts on “April 14 – Max Added Quirk To The Already Unusual Art

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I can’t believe they had a 5-minute version of the Peter Gunn Theme. The drums are booming. I may have heard Legs before…I’m not sure. I probably saw the video…I have heard of them though..love the Max Headroom video.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. they were very odd, but at times pretty good, I think. I’d never heard ‘Legs’ though it was a single apparently, but I remember the Peter Gunn theme and Paranoimia well. I don’t think I’d heard the original PG theme at that time, so it was my first introduction to Duane Eddy…probably really helped his career and bank account when they did that. A year or two later they had a fairly big hit with Tom Jones doing Prince’s “Kiss”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        That is what really works doing covers…having people recognize something they might not have before.
        I do remember the Jone’s collaboration…maybe that is where I heard of them…I knew I did….but Legs does seem like I heard it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. true… when you’re talking 25 years or so, you could be doing a beneficial thing covering an old song that wasn’t a megahit, introducing a new generation to it and the original artist.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. oh ya, totally different ballgame there … Bangles doing the Big Star song too… that’s not only warranted, it’s almost noble. If a song is good but flops, more power to the star artist who brings it back to life, and makes some money for the writers and perhaps spotlights their careers. Unlike say Joe Cocker deciding he could do better than the Beatles singing the Beatles a year after they put out their record (LOL – sorry, I know I’m a minority opinion there but his ‘Little Help from My Friends’ actually grates on me)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Badfinger (Max)

        Oh McCartney said his was best…and they wrote it with Cocker in mind…and a few others…it fit his style. It’s not my favorite song by either artist…although he turned into an epic song.

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  2. Yeah, I was happy to hear Duane Eddy’s ‘Peter Gunn’ get another, ahem, shot at the charts.
    I like the ideas they had, the making music out of whatever took their ear. A bit too different from the usual fare at the time, perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. well, it was a bit of an acquired taste I guess… actually I am kind of surprised at the commercial success they did achieve. I quite liked a fair bit of their stuff though – it was the 80s… eclectic was the way.

      Liked by 1 person

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