[…continued from yesterday]
Yesterday, we were discussing “Burning Bridges,” a song of such mannered poise that almost nothing happens in it but a gossamer breeze for the first minute and a half. Then its theme manifests with heraldic, cinematic synths, eventually leaving the lyrical sax of Mick Karn to carry the melody forward. When David Sylvian joins the song, almost at its coda, his brief lyric phrases suggest haiku more than anything else.
“My New Career” is the closest this band have ever come to insouciance. The song was driven by CR78 rhythm box embellished with live drums, but as a result, it is the most conventional song here. The interjections of Sylvian speaking the lyrics “why…boy” in the chorus manage to gently accentuate the off beats in a way that is quite subdued for this band on this album. The melodic spotlight, curiously enough, was given here to guest performer Simon House on violin for the middle eight.
Side two of the original album began with the last song that bore the touch of Moroder for this band. That was quite a thread that they followed for a few years with several sequencer driven numbers indebted to the Master, but here the stakes got considerably higher as they were successfully attempting to integrate the Moroder approach into a number that is the furthest thing from 4/4 disco. Crucially, the sequencers that propelled “Methods Of Dance” are decidedly subdued from their earlier prominence, as the balletic rhythm section was given the spotlight on this number.
The polyrhythmic thrust of this track was yet another harbinger of their immediate future, while the integration of sequenced lines was also pointing the way backward. This made”Methods Of Dance” in many way, typical of the approach for “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” which is every inch the transitional album between “Quiet Life” and their finale, “Tin Drum.” The wailing Japanese vocals of Cyo here also foreshadow the reliance on Yuka Fuji on their next album.
The next song was my entrée to the world of Japan and stronger aural flypaper I can’t imagine. “Ain’t That Peculiar” bears the title and lyrics of the Marvin Gaye song, but little else, as the music has been constructed whole cloth as a lurching jazzfunk pulse that was interjected with off-beat rhythmic fillips from Steve Jansen that pulled the song forward in ways that never fail to excite my cerebellum. Mick Karn’s fretless bass was joined here by his multi-tracked recorder playing even as the other songs on the album occasionally sported his oboe playing. The man was truly the band’s secret weapon.
The elegance of the song “Nightporter” is another of this album’s songs that cross the six minute mark. The plaintive piano and the late night intimacy of Sylvian’s vocal carry this dignified waltz as the apotheosis of the band’s interest in Erik Satie. When the oboe joins the song at its subdued peak, it suggests a ballet of the damned who are hitting all of their marks even as they know it will lead to their doom. The song in that respect is most strongly redolent of the ill-starred vibe that hung over “Quiet Life” like a funereal pall.
Finally, the album managed to shake off its malaise for the final track, that saw a return to the optimism that started the album off. “Taking Islands In Africa” was atypical in that that Sylvian brought in a ringer to co-write and perform on the track. Ryuichi Sakamoto had already turned heads in Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, and even as a solo act, but as far as I can tell, this was the first time he was featured in Western pop music of any stripe. The lush arrangement has all of the rhythmic sophistication that the band will pursue to their imminent conclusion, but the song’s grounding in underlying melodicism, is something of a last hurrah before moving forward.
This album marks the point where, for my ears, Japan’s facility with melody, sophistication with rhythm, and David Sylvian’s deathless grasp of the seductive lure of ennui managed to teeter on the brink between despair and elation. Surely the title cut to
“Gentlemen Take Polaroids” represented a peak of happiness never again to be seen in his music. Japan’s music would not be so compelling again to me, even taking into account the further leaps into the unknown that their next album would boldly take. For me the band’s artistic balancing act culminated within this album most adroitly. It represents a breathtaking peak experience of a group whose artistic development was in the middle of a period of startling apogee of the kind rarely seen.
Next: …To play the part of arties