I’ve been a casual fan of Japan over the years, I own Tin Drum, David’s first LP and a couple of compilations but I’ve never really dug into the history of the band. I knew they had a pre-history as a sort of glam/trash band but that was it. So this was quite an intriguing read.
Reynolds traces the history as school friends, and details the very slow rise to fame through the late 70s/early 80s. It’s fair to say Japan were not an overnight sensation, signed to the deeply unhip Sansa label they were a confusing proposition – looking like the New York Dolls but musically someway between the Alex Harvey Band and Chic. For years they were, somewhat ironically, big only in Japan. Once success arrived their were huge rifts within the band which are detailed here. They eventually hit upon a formula of elegant, stylish synth pop but perhaps were more influential than successful and seemed to quit just as they were on the verge of breaking.
It’s fair to say they weren’t the most rock of roll of bands in spite of their early image, so don’t read this expecting tales of hellraising and excess (although the great Mick Karn has his moments). It’s a fairly short book but it is very thorough – the author has done his homework and seemingly everyone who ever played on a session or had some sort of relationship with Japan is interviewed with the exception of..unsurprisingly, David Sylvian – who comes across as a bit of an arse (as lead singers inevitably do).
The book is illustrated with loads of pictures, a lot of which are just snaps taken by fans – so while they’re not hi-res quality give you a real sense of how things were in the eye of the storm that briefly engulfed them before they gave up and handed over to Duran Duran to take their entire sound, and look and become megastars. Suffice to say, even caught unawares on Kodak Instamatic I’d forgotten what a striking image the band had – still startling today. Like all good music books it got me into listening through the catalogue – and I’m of the opinion their masterpiece isn’t Tin Drum (which hasn’t aged so well) but Gentleman Take Polaroids – which is immaculate.
The book stops in 1984 so we don’t get into the complex web of the solo years – which is a shame as I’d like to know more about that as the various members of the band have collaborated in different combinations and of course came back together briefly as Rain Tree Crow.
The book is, as far as I know, only available here from Burning Shed
Length of Read:Short
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
One thing you’ve learned
Japan was over before it really began