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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > May 2019 - Bryan Adams > JAPAN AND DAVID SYLVIAN

JAPAN AND DAVID SYLVIAN

INSPIRED BY GLAM AND MYOPICALLY LUMPED IN WITH THE NEW ROMANTICS BECAUSE OF A PROCLIVITY FOR COSMETICS, JAPAN WERE ALWAYS MORE ART THAN POP. THEY QUIT AFTER FIVE ALBUMS, REUNITED FOR ANOTHER, WHILE FRONTMAN DAVID SYLVIAN’S SOLO OEUVRE CONTINUES TO BEWITCH.
© LFI/Photoshot

When Japan emerged out of Catford, South London, in the mid-70s, they wore their glam rock influences (David Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music and the New York Dolls) loudly, with garish threads and make-up, even if sonically there was more than a whiff of funk about them.

Fronted by the obscenely handsome David Sylvian, the initial lineup featured his brother, Steve Jansen, on drums, keyboardist Richard Barbieri and bassist Mick Karn, school friends all. Guitarist Rob Dean joined later.

A couple of albums in 1978 – Adolescent Sex and Obscure Alternatives – failed to cause much of a stir at home, but were, ahem, big-ish in Japan.

The following year, a one-off single, Life In Tokyo, helmed by producer Giorgio Moroder, established their electronic new wave, art-pop identity, which evolved further on a third album, Quiet Life, characterised by Sylvian’s burnished baritone, Karn’s fretless bass and Jansen’s atypical percussion.

1980’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids and 1981’s Tin Drum found Japan moving into ever more interesting soundscapes, while also making chartland with impressive regularity.

An unwitting affiliation with the burgeoning New Romantic movement didn’t hurt their commercial cause, though Sylvian wasn’t best pleased. “I don’t like to be associated with them,” he declared. “The attitudes are so different. For them, fancy dress is a costume. But ours is a way of life.”

Of course, it couldn’t last. Internecine tensions surfaced, especially between Sylvian and Karn, individual members left to pursue solo projects and, in 1982, Japan finally announced that they were splitting up. Ironically, Oil On Canvas, a 1983 live document of a six-night sell-out run at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, would go on to achieve their highest UK chart placing.

They did reform, briefly, as Rain Tree Crow, releasing a critically-acclaimed, eponymously-titled album in 1991, only to disappear again.

Since his 1984 debut, Brilliant Trees, Sylvian’s sporadic but singular career has included collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and late Can alumnus Holger Czukay.

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About Classic Pop

Issue 52 of Classic Pop is on sale now! This month, we have an exclusive interview with Bryan Adams and get the inside track on his adventure-packed 40 years in music plus we meet Howard Jones who tells us why he's returning to his synth-pop roots for new studio album, Transform. Classic Pop celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 2 Tone movement by speaking to those who made it happen including Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding, Pauline Black and Ranking Roger; hip-hop legends De La Soul reveal the ties that have kept them together since their 1989 breakout LP 3 Feet High And Rising and we also talk to Toyah Willcox who explains why she's revisiting her 2008 album In The Court Of The Crimson Queen. Elsewhere, we interview Erasure's Andy Bell, pop tunesmith Guy Chambers and A Flock Of Seagulls. We also have unseen photos of Nick Heyward and Haircut 100. Our Classic Album is Soul II Soul's Club Classics Vol One and we serve up a buyer's guide to Japan and David Sylvian. Our packed new album reviews section includes Howard Jones, Morrissey, The Cranberries and The Waterboys. On the reissues front, Stephen Duffy's wonderful I Love My Friends makes its debut on vinyl plus there are re-releases from Heaven 17, Stevie Nicks, Julian Cope and more. In our live reviews section, we check out gigs by The Specials, Giorgio Moroder, Emika and Stewart Copeland.