Japan Vinyl, CD & tapes by Japan at Norman Records
Japan began as a laughably New York Dolls-inspired glam-rock band in the mid 70s but before long literally no-one was laughing when they metamorphosed into Very Serious Art Rockers who fit much more snugly into the beginnings of the early 80s New Romantic scene.
Led by The World’s Most Beautiful Man™ David Sylvian, their early records are best ignored until they hooked up with disco king Giorgio Moroder for the Life in Tokyo single and things began to take shape. The fact that this new shape was obviously inspired by David Bowie and Roxy Music didn’t matter too much as finally Japan were making music that lived up to their glamorous image. Indeed 1979’s 'Quiet Life' was the first of three excellent albums which transformed the bands fortunes. Perhaps the pick of the three was 1980’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids, a record which seemed to serve as a sort of bridge between the late 70s Roxy Music sound and the New Romantic dazzle of the likes of Duran Duran but crucially showed the avant garde tendencies that would serve David Sylvian well in his subsequent solo career. Their 1981 swansong Tin Drum stripped things back even further and by the time Japan had truly cemented their sound, they’d split up. The album marries the fretless bass wobble of Mick Karn with experimental percussion giving a more rhythmic feel to proceedings inspired perhaps by Talking Heads. Indeed tracks like the expansive Sons of Pioneers seemed to fortell the post rock scene that would start to emerge a decade later. The most incredible thing about Tin Drum perhaps though was 'Ghosts'. A magnificently eerie piece of electronic minimalism that somehow got to number five in the charts, and terrifying children everywhere when they appeared on Top of the Pops with literally the most uncommercial piece of music since records began.
Japan’s career in hindsight was the sound of a band always learning, always pushing. They seemed to predict the lip-glossed electronic glamour of the New Romantic movement before it happened on any kind of scale. David Sylvian went on to a successful if more organic solo career but there was one last hurrah from the band in 1991 when they returned not as Japan but as Rain Tree Crow for an album of more experimental work that at its best was a rival for the Talk Talk of Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. It gained critical plaudits before the band then splintered back off to its various solo projects.