Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Disco Delivery #27:
Noel - Is There More To Life Than Dancing? (1979, Virgin/Polygram)

Noel - Side One: Dancing Is Dangerous/Is There More To Life Than Dancing?
Noel - Dancing Is Dangerous (stand alone edit)
Noel - The Night They Invented Love/Au Revoir
Noel - I Want A Man

Updated and re-uploaded July, 2007

dancing is dangerous...gently embraces us.. then won't let go 'til the end of our days..

Since I started the blog in January, I've gotten quite a few suggestions and requests.. Let it be known that I may not get to them right away, in fact there are many that I have yet to get to, but I do keep every single one of them. This is one of those suggestions I got some eight months ago in March. So, thanks to reader James McClure for turning me on to this fabulous piece of vinyl.. Lately, I've had the opportunity to go crazy and really stock up on my 12" singles and albums these past few weeks (I'm gonna have to post a list of my finds sometime). Let's just say out of all the purchases I've made recently, this is probably one of my favourites out of them all.. If anything, certainly one of the most interesting disco albums I've come across..

Entirely written and produced by Ron & Russell Mael, better known as Sparks, this one came right after their amazing Giorgio Moroder-produced "No. 1 In Heaven" (1979, Elektra) LP. One of those albums that seemed to cross boundaries between rock, disco and new-wave. Although that album was criticized by some as the Sparks "going disco," that same album also seemed to give them a rather timely creative and commercial resurgence. So much so that in an interview promoting it, Russell Mael had said they would be saying "goodbye to guitars" from then on. It was to be a fairly short-lived goodbye, but nevertheless during that period their work with Moroder seemingly influenced and inspired them enough to crank out a more fully-fleshed disco project of their own, which brings us to this album...

To be honest, I've been putting this off, because I was a little unsure how to approach this album.. It's disco, but then again it's not.. By that, I mean certainly not your average get-down-and-boogie type of album. If anyone was under the impression that the Sparks' "No. 1 In Heaven" was disco, then this album goes much further, easily the furthest they ever went into disco. While at the same time barreling down the disco trail, they almost seem somewhat subversive when it comes their approach. They seem to be grudgingly giving in on "Dancing Is Dangerous," an epic electronic hymn to dancefloor surrender if there ever was one, yet follow it up with the thinly veiled cynicism of "Is There More To Life Than Dancing?" As far as the timing, I'm not sure exactly when they released this album; either way, the title of this album and the tone of the title track just seemed especially timely and appropriate for 1979.. Just when disco had reached it's peak of popularity, creative experimentation and it's quick fall from prominence, how appropriate is it that something like this comes out.. Was it a reaction or were they just slightly ahead of their time?

While on that note, if there's any track that seems to capture how far ahead they were, it would probably be the side two opener "The Night They Invented Love." That track is, to me, the absolute peak of this album.. The quirky seductiveness of the lyrics and delivery are absolute brilliance. That aside though, I really can't talk about this track without mentioning that breathtaking, sexy, haunting sax.. It's right up front in the mix and is really the one key musical element which takes this song right over the top. It almost sounds like the sort of thing which would have come from a big 1980's movie soundtrack as opposed to a 1979 disco album. If there's any frame of reference to this, for me this album would be like a precursor to the experimental, sometimes avant-garde disco-not-disco stuff that Ze Records was putting out in the early 80s..

As much as this album is not your average disco album, Noel herself, looking like a tarted up post-punk waif certainly didn't look like your regular disco diva either. Looking less like a Madleen Kane or an Andrea True, and more like Courtney Love in disco drag, it just adds another layer of intrigue to this album. Who was this Noel woman and where did she come from? How did she hook up with the brothers and where in the world is she today?.. Whatever the answers, none of the Sparks websites, nor any of my intensive Google searches are forthcoming with anything substantial.. Although what I have found out is that she was apparently from Los Angeles and is regularly (and annoyingly) mixed up with another Noel, a male freestyle singer who had a hit with "Silent Morning" in 1987. The most significant tidbit that I did find was from the discomusic.com forums, with one user mentioning that she did in fact release material after this LP. That then led me (thanks to eBay) to a record by a group called Noel & The Red Wedge and their only album, "Peer Pressure" (1982, Scotti Bros.). I haven't heard that record yet, but I'm assuming it's the same woman, given the name and the picture on the cover...

Despite his influence, it would hardly be giving the brothers credit to just classify this as their version of a Giorgio Moroder album, since this is undoubtedly an original piece of work on it's own terms. On the surface there are the technical similarities (the synths, segued tracks etc..), but there are certainly enough stylistic differences to set this apart from just another Moroder knock-off.. In essence, the vocals, arrangements and lyrics individually and combined are a bit further out of left field than almost all of the things Moroder was involved with. Those spaced out synths paired with the Mael's trademark witty, clever lyrics and the enigmatic nature of this project give this album a feel all it's own. Listening to this LP over the last little while and pondering the lack of details about this album, it's singer and the approach they took; I've sometimes asked myself whether this was an outsiders genuine disco embrace, the Mael's version of a cynical disco cash-in, or perhaps all the above? Regardless, in either case, what remains is a cool, elegant, deftly original piece of twisted disco for it's time..




Anonymous said...

Great post. It's one of my favorite disco albums which I also own, the picture disc release which I bought during the 80's. I don't know anything about this Noel either, an old friend from school has the second album she released, but I don't think he's that impressed of it. Personally I have a soft spot for this kind of electronic disco. Moroder was a genius and the Sparks album is also one of the classics. It's funny though how Noel sounds a lot like Russel Mael...

Anonymous said...

Noel is completely fabulous!

Have you had a chance to check out Cristina from Ze Records? I'll probably be uploading the files to send to a couple of friends. If you're interested, hit me up: pamelarotary (at) gmail.com

Tommy said...

Thanks for the comments Kenneth and Connie! :)

Kenneth, now that you mention it, you're right, she's definitely imitating Russell's vocal style. That reminds me, I forgot to mention that I read somewhere about some people apparently thinking she was Russell Mael in drag.. I guess I can hear why hehe..

Thanks for offering some Cristina, Connie! I've heard a few things from her, namely "Disco Clone," "Drive My Car" and "Blame It On Disco" which are crazy/fabulous, esp. the latter two.. I haven't heard anything else from her, so I'll fire off an email to you shortly.. :) Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

It's funny. Moroder fans, on one of the websites devoted to him, catagorize him into SOFT or HARD disco. SOFT being anything with "Real" instrumentation (Think early Donna), and HARD, being totally electonic sounding (Think #1 In Heaven or E=MC2). This was made after the Mael Bros. work with him, and it was definatly inspired by what he was doing at the time: synths and early sampling and digitization. I think this might have been a test for them to see whether they could pursue this sound on their own.

I am lucky enough, that the first exposure I had to this project, was the 12" which finds Noel sporting an all blue spandex unitard on a vivid red backdrop. It includdes both "DID" and "ITMTLTD". But Just 12" versions of both. I am also lucky enough to own the picture disc.

Every time I play this out DJ-ing someone asks about it. It's just totally infectious!

This is a brilliant find, and I'm so glad you've put it up for others to listen to! Good job Tommy!

Thanks again!

ps. Moroder produced one other Sparks album, "Terminal Jive", which has my favorite love song of all time on it, "When I'm With You". A must have for any Moroder fan!

Alright, time for Munich Machine's "Funk Train" and Chris and Giorgio's "Burning the Midnight Oil"!!!

Anonymous said...

I've had this album since 1979 (yes 27 years!!) and always thought it to be one of those odd obscure finds that onyl I had. It is brilliant and I LOVE "The Night They Invente Love". I started thrashing this again about 6 months ago and remembered how great the album is. I'm pleased some others are finally enjoying it

Auckland NZ

Anonymous said...

Hi Tommy, just wanted to say thanks for these great tracks - and for your blog in generel - great informations & great rhythms - please keep up the groovy work!

Tommy said...

Thanks for the comments Terry , Darryl and anon! :)

Also thanks Terry for the referrals! :) Not to worry, I have those other Moroder efforts on my list. I usually like to give a little space between the producers I spotlight on here though, but I definitely will be putting more Moroder on here..

The Hard & Soft disco is a good way of classifying Moroder's work.. You're probably right that this was the Mael's experimenting and testing out their new direction.. Personally, I think it's a success. I'd really be interested to know what the Mael's themselves think of it now though. Someone oughta ask them about it sometime...

Tony Westbrook said...

I love this Album. I remember hearing it for the first time in a dance club, and loving it. All these years later, I still love it.

Does ANYONE know what the lyrics are that the back up singers sing over and over again on "Is there more to life then dancing?" Drives me crazy coz I have NO idea...anyone else?

Go on Noel....music makes you feel good...no matter how it is presented.

Anonymous said...

I came out in Washington Dc in 1981 and DANCED my ass off all night to the disco beat of NOEL . I had the picture disc , but was lost due to fire. If any one wants to sell theres to me -I would be indebted forever!! This recaptures my youth!! I love disco

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only person to have heard this album and deserves to be heard. I bought this on release after the'Dancing Is Dangerous'12inch came out (A side 7" version / B side 6 min version).

So come on Virgin Records get this out on CD. My picture disc now sounds a bit worn.

Anonymous said...

Wenn ich die Augen schließe, sehe ich mich wieder als das 15-jaehrige Maedchen auf der Tanzflaeche des Meddle in Wipperfuerth. Danke.

Anonymous said...

"Dancing Is Dangerous" is an ultra-obscure, under-appreciated gem of an album, but one well worth listening to. Your description "disco-not-disco" is perfect.

As with conventional Sparks releases, what takes it away from pure disco is the vocals - both the lyrics and the delivery, although in this case the lyrics do at least relate to discos and dancing, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek. Like Russell Mael, Noel has a strange swooping, piercing, very loud banshee wail, far removed from typical disco-diva vocals, that would probably scare most of the crowd off the dancefloor.

Sonically this album is really impressive. I agree that after their collaboration with Moroder on "Number One In Heaven" the Maels probably wanted to see if they could do it on their own. The short answer is: yes! There are even some advances to the N1IH sound - most noticeably much more digital percussion, possibly a very early drum machine as opposed to several layers of Keith Forsey. There are also some mad bongos in there that lend an element of tribal, hypnotic trance-dance to proceedings. The synths are probably not quite as crisp and 3-D as Moroder's huge room-sized contraptions, but they still sound atmospheric and spacey enough to get the job done. And the sax adds a sexy, slinky dimension to the sound.

Now we come onto the actual songs themselves. Personally I feel the title track is (only just) one of the weaker tracks, but it segues into the strongest selection on the album, "Is There More To Life Than Dancing". Another highlight is "Au Revoir", possibly the most melodic and Sparks-like of all the tunes. You have to give Noel credit - very few people other than his brother have ever managed to interpret Ron's weird lyrics, but she sings with such gusto, even if it sometimes sounds like she hasn't got a clue what she's really singing about. And "I Want A Man" is the missing link between Demis Roussos and OMD...now you can't ask for a better compliment than that, can you?

All in all this is a well above-average space disco album that would pave the way for the 80s and even further ahead into the future. It doesn't even sound that dated today, especially with so much of today's electro-house basing itself on early 80s synthpop (I even heard an electro mix of "Video Killed The Radio Star" the other day). A few years ago Trisco built their track "Muzak" around Sparks' "Tryouts For The Human Race", so maybe it's time someone dug out a Noel track to update, not that they really need updating from an audio perspective, just to bring it to a wider audience. Or maybe it should remain an ultra-obscure, under-appreciated gem.

Bryan-Manchester said...

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I had never heard this LP, but recently acquired the picture disc version, purely due to it's Sparks connection and the fact that it was 'buy it now' on ebay for only 0.99p! I am SO glad that I did. I wasn't expecting too much, but this is an absolute gem of an LP. When I first heard the chorus of "Dancing is dangerous" I recognised it from an old Disconet-type medley I have on tape from way-back-when, but I had no idea then that it was Noel. Even though it is a picture disc, the sound quality is very good. I must say that I have totally fallen in love with the whole of side 2; "Au revoir" especially swirls constantly around my mind at odd moments, prompting me to play the whole side again and agian. This LP could easily have been recorded recently, and it would not sound dated at all, besides an obvious nod towards the disco era. In fact, the sound is extremely reminiscent of many Hi-nrg cuts that prevailed in the gay clubs in the 1980's onwards. I sure do hope that one day, a company acquires the masters and decides to re-release this on CD. I am as intrigued as everyone else about 2 things. Firstly, how did Ron and Russ decide to write this cannon of work in this way and get the enigmatic Noel to front the wprk? And of course, secondly, who is/was Noel? What are her remembrances of the project? What did she think of it and what does she think of it now? I am sure that she MUST have 'googled' herslef at some stage in the past and may do so again. If you come across this article Noel, PLEASE reply and tell us more about yourself and this LP! Of course, Ron and Russ must have their own remembrances, perhaps they could enlighten us as well? Certainly, this body of work is one that they haven't forgotten, because people reading this blog may like to know that since the original piece was written, Sparks themsleves have performed "Dancing is dangerous" as a encore to their "21 albums, 21 shows" tour ("No: 1 in heaven" LP) on 25th May 2008. A small snippet appears on Youtube (of course!). So, after 30 years, this LP is still alive, still delighting 'fans' old and new and still as enigmatic and lacking in info as ever! XXX

Anonymous said...

I have the 12 inch picture disk, bought it when it was. Another great 12 inch disk from those days is "Beat The Clock" and "Tryouts For The Human Race" by... Sparks.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

THE dw for the track i wan a man by Noel doesn't work.
Please upload again.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of reuploading this as the links appear to be dead
I love the, great stuff gregoryrob2001@yahoo.co.uk

Adam said...

Hi, not sure if anyone's still monitoring these comments in 2018! If so, thanks for a great review of a fantastic album. I'm fascinated in the technical aspects to the making of this seriously ahead-of-its-time electronic dance music.

My main question is about the drums: are they live or is it a very early drum machine? The beat sounds quantized (for the late 70s) and electronic, but the Maels are quoted as saying there were no drum machines available at the time of Number One In Heaven (there were...eg on "Heart Of Glass"). But the sound of the beats is definitely more 80s than 70s, one of the big sonic differences between this and N1IH.

Some of the synths aren't quite as tight, eg the arpeggios in "The Night They Invented Love" are a bit all-over-the-shop, not that it detracts from the magnificence of the song.

So how did the Maels put it all together then? Did they use Moroder's studio and synths, or was it recorded somewhere else? Who played sax and even, if I'm not mistaken, bongos (those awesome funky breakdowns in "Is There More To Life"? Talking of that song, it sounds like Russell is at least one of the singers doing the "Is there more to life..." chanting!

Sorry for the geeky questions, but this is a fascinating album technically that seems to have a lot of very influential techniques, and I'm fascinated to know exactly what the Maels did in the studio to put it all together. How did they share the workload? How did people keep electronic beats going and all the sounds and vocals overlaid so cleanly, in those pre-MIDI days?

Bryan-Manchester said...

Adam: I once read an article where Russell stated that the syn drum used on their No1 In Heaven album was Keith Forsey. In fact, Russell said (something like) it's hard to believe that that steady rhythmic drum was done by a human and not a computer! I think it's likely that the same personnel for that album would have possibly been used for the Noel one, given the timescale? I'd say it's definitely Russell on BVs. As for the rest of the personnel? The enigma continues. Well it ever see a re release?

Jack Evans said...

The album is absolutely superb. Genesis P-Orridge recommended it to me after a TG gig. I bought it straight away, along with the UK 7" of an remix/edit of "The Night They Invented Love." The French picture disc seems to be the most common release. I also have a black vinyl release in a pic sleeve, a Greek release in a completely different cover, numerous 7" and 12" singles from various countries and the cd issue from a few years ago, possibly of dubious legality.

Noël is the vocalist and the person on the cover. I believe her full name was/is Patricia Noël. Her second album, "Noël & The Red Wedge" is much more standard 1980s U.S New Wave, along the lines of Missing Persons or Berlin. It has also seen a cd release in the last few years, again more than likely unofficial.

I still play the first album all the time and my favourite track is, of course, "The Night..." Wonderfully sleazy, deadpan, decadent Disco, not dissimilar to early Amanda Lear, Cristina or Gina X Performance.

It so deserves to be much better known and loved.

Bryan R-W said...

The picture disc isn't French, it's UK....

Anonymous said...

Noel was originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. There was a great interview with her in the UK pop mag sounds in June 1979.

OneCharmingBastard aka OCB aka JRJ said...

Check out the reissue! Immaculately cleaned up for the digital era, plus three bonus non-album songs, two of which seem like huge hits from a parallel universe..

Coco Dependent said...

I interviewed the Mael brothers in 1997 and suggested they cover the material they wrote for this album. After a pause, Russell said, "that's a great idea" (like he'd forgotten that recording). A legendary yet hidden album.

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