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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

AUGUST 23, 1999: 

Art Of Noise The Seduction Of Claude Debussy (ZTT/Universal)

Art Of Noise were concocting clever electronic melodies and slammin' beats long before so many of their ill-equipped progeny elevated dime-a-dozen looped thumpage miles above musical content. (A seemingly inevitable side-effect of the MIDI revolution -- a revolution which collectives such as Art Of Noise helped to promote -- now finds every third Mixmaster/DJ/MC Joe Blow cranking out the most tedious digital rubbish because there's a ton of ready-made MIDI-controllable segments of music available to the tonally challenged. Talk about a room full of monkeys and typewriters )

The Seduction Of Claude Debussy is the first album released by (the newly re-formed) Art Of Noise in over nine years, and it's exquisite. Considerably more urbane than urban, more balm than bomb, The Seduction is a "soundtrack to a film that wasn't made about the life of Claude Debussy" and subsequently functions as a concept album. (There's absolutely no getting around the "concept album" characteristic of this record; the entire affair is punctuated by British actor John Hurt's wonderfully calculated narrative technique.)

Although there are a few musical allusions to Debussy's compositions and style here, don't come to this CD hoping to encounter an album's worth of post-modern, deconstructed Claude. Anyone familiar with Art Of Noise's work from the '80s would have no problem guessing the authors of this music during a blindfold test. In other words, Seduction is not about updated turn-of-the-century Impressionism. Nowhere is this fact more in evidence than when guest MC Rakim is brought in to pave hip-hop street smarts over dreamy Parisian boulevard-minded songs like "Rapt: In The Evening Air" and its follow-up tracks, "Metaforce" and "Metaphor on the Floor."

Still, this album's lovely quasi-Impressionism, its flawless production, and its obligatory gimcrackery and gewgaws (this is an Art Of Noise record, after all) serve its creators' purposes well. Some will undoubtedly take issue with its bold eclecticism. But I'll let John Hurt field that one: "Debussy understood that a work of art, or an effort to create beauty, will always be regarded by some people as a personal attack." -- Stephen Grimstead

George Jones Cold Hard Truth (Asylum)

The two cats that appear to have the most lives between them are peerless song stylists George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis. In addition to cheating death on a regular basis (at least so far), both these living legends suffer from the curse of surviving most of their musical peers: There's hardly anyone left to make great music with them.

George Jones had already laid down the majority of the basic tracks for his most recent effort, Cold Hard Truth, prior to almost meeting his Maker in an internationally publicized motor-vehicle accident. However, he planned to return to the studio to burnish these recordings further, but was denied this opportunity due to his recovery from severe injuries received in the crash.

Do you think that his new label, Asylum, postponed the release of these recordings until George could return to the fray? Well, of course not, since modern country music shows little respect for anyone, particularly the remaining elders that defined the genre during its heyday decades ago. One can only hope Asylum didn't snag George after his ignominious abandonment by MCA Nashville just to have a trophy artist from the "good ol' days" on their roster.

That's not to say that Cold Hard Truth is a bad album, because even a lukewarm record from George Jones blows away all of the blowhard big-hat bastards and hollow hayride honeys currently in vogue. For these to be basically demo tracks (at least according to Evelyn Shriver, president of Asylum Records), they've got all the trademarks we've learned to love and appreciate when we listen to a George Jones record -- the sliding syllables, the clear conviction, the sound of a man who has lived and learned the hard way.

The primary problem with Cold Hard Truth is in the songwriting, as shallow and predictable as the too-safe, homogenized overproduction. The ballads win out here (six weepers over four good-timers), and while there's certainly nothing embarrassing, there's not a whole lot worth revisiting (except for the CD booklet photos).

Maybe George Jones' renewed faith in survival will prompt someone to take charge and record some contemporary "roots" albums (like producer Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash). George Jones deserves better than what is represented on Cold Hard Truth, and so do his devoted followers. -- David D. Duncan

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