Title: Somebody down there loathes me
Author: Paul Morley
Source: The Observer
Publish date: Sunday September 1, 2002
As a critic who has been quite mean to certain people in my time, it is a strange experience to read a review about something I am involved in where I am described as a ‘twat’. All of us have occasion to display twattish behaviour but most of us will pass through life without being described in black and white as a ‘twat’.
People who I have damned, dismissed and dribbled all over in print will be relishing a certain level of karma that I have been summed up with such four-letter ruthlessness. It is possible that Phil Collins, Duran Duran and Travis in particular have sponsored the young man who has labelled me a ‘twat’, and who was also moved to describe me as pointless and irritating.
It’s all my own fault. I won’t deny it. Although as a rock writer I never directly felt the urge to follow the likes of Morrissey, Tennant, Geldof and Hynde from pop journalism to pop performance, from stargazer to actual star, I did admire the need of a critic like Ken Tynan not just to write about artistic endeavour but to try a little himself. Not simply to be a parasite but actually to put himself on the line, to attempt to prove that he had something original to say, rather than something descriptive to say about something original.
As an occasional member of Art of Noise I found a role where I could discover some of the joys of being in a pop group while still remaining an outsider. It wasn’t the kind of group you would be in if you were looking for conventional rock fame. Early on, the group hid behind masks, played around with what a group’s image might be, and in a way my role within the group was that of a writer inventing a reality for something that wasn’t, in the normal pop sense, real.
I turned the group into a piece of fiction for which the music was a soundtrack, and parodied the ways that a pop group can often only really exist in a collective imagination. Through the Eighties, with me in the group and then out of the group, inventing their reality and then not, the group flitted between being conceptual art project, hip-hop pioneers, slapstick novelty group and tired session muso rock group. In a fairly ordinary pop way, Art of Noise had a blazing groundbreaking beginning followed by a slow, re-mixed up falling away as the ground closed up around them.
And then, in a fairly ordinary pop way, there was a reunion. Having, as a critic, slammed the easy ways groups would reform for another taste of stardom, or to recapture lost youth, or to replenish bank accounts, I was, as a member of a group, amused by how nice and comforting it was to be part of a nostalgic reunion.
The Art of Noise comeback was so perverse as not to be perverse at all - we made an album that had the word concept written invisibly all over it where we told a musical story that located Claude Debussy as the Godfather of all modern music from Miles Davis to Moby. Many people admired our hyper audacity. Many others thought we were a bunch of twats. As a member of the group I would say that The Seduction Of Claude Debussy is a terribly underestimated and lost masterpiece that even now is influencing some of the things the good Dr Dre is up to. As a critic I would describe it as decaffeinated coffee table drum and bass. It didn’t crack any markets - there is no known marketable genre for an album that features both Rakim and John Hurt - but the market cracked it.
We toured America before we cracked, and I played the role of lead singer in a group that never had a lead singer. I cannot sing, I cannot as such perform, although I do have one life as a TV presenter, with all the ego that implies, so I decided to front the group as a kind of surreal TV presenter. Sort of Iggy Aspel. I thought of it as Bez meets Lenny Bruce. Critics other than myself pinned it down more as Bez’s dad meets Bruce Jones - Les Battersby in Corrie. Possibly the truth lies somewhere twattish inbetween.
You can decide for yourself where the truth twattishly lies by buying the DVD souvenir of the American AON tour. It’s like an art home movie with absurdist novelty elements. As a member of the group I would say it is an interesting documentary insight into a band that contained Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Grammy winners, Brit winners, and me, who once won a 17-yard swimming certificate. As a critic, I would say the front man was trying something different in exposing the risks you must take as a front man, and failing bravely. Perhaps as a writer he was learning about the realities of performance as research for some novel he was writing. I would say that he demonstrates twattish tendencies. But I would say it affectionately. I would say it as someone who knows from experience how easy it is to call someone a twat and how hard it is to go out there, to where all the world’s a stage, and actually be one.
• Art of Noise - The Compleat Compendium is out on DVD now