Mick Karn: Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters UK CD 
- First Impression
- Language Of Ritual
- The Three Fates
- When Love Walks In
- Dreams Of Reason
When JAPAN fissured into various splinters, I did not immediately pursue Mick Karn’s solo career, seeing as how I had heard his debut solo single, “Sensitive” back in the layoff following “Tin Drum” and their live swansong “Oil On Canvas.” I was appalled at the club-footed attempt at pop from this art rocker. I haven’t played the 7″ since and sat out “Titles,” his debut solo album that followed. I moved on with various Sylvian projects but when I chanced to see “Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters” in the bins [was it as Digital Sounds, the then innovative CD-only store… I think so] I decided to take a chance on it. That was one of the best moves I have ever made because I have been enraptured with this album for 32 years and that shows no signs of stopping.
The album began with a ponderous fretless bassline of brutal simplicity; just two notes slithering across the soundfield while the lumbering, measured drum pattern laid down a tribal rhythm not a million miles away from where Julia Fordham would take her breakout “Happy Ever After” the next year. But here is was the furthest thing from pop. More classical than jazz, even when the heraldic horns burst into the bass heavy music bed with the musical theme.
The thrilling arrangements here were by Karn and Steve Jansen; his ex-bandmate who played drums and keys but the bulk of the music was down to multi-instrumentalist Karn. He played bass, keyboards, various reeds, accordion, drums, percussion, and dida. No lead guitars manifest on this album. The vibe on this one was incredible. It suggested primeval monolithic power buried deep beneath the earth for eons, now awakening. If all of that sounds a little Prog, I’ll just avert my eyes, whistle and point out that the song title was first used by ELP!
“Language Of Ritual” began with ethnic field recordings of bazaars on the other side of the world jostling with more methodical beats and a phalanx of clarinets and bass clarinets. As the song progressed through its length, it became gradually Westernized with the introduction of piano until as the coda played out, all vestiges of the Turkish city where the song began were faded out completely, giving the piano the last word.
Of course, we fell in love with Karn’s fretless bass in JAPAN, but thus far, his serpentine fretless bass runs were thin on the ground. Not here. Moreover, the hatchets had been buried by now over the girlfriend problems that had broken up the band. Karn had enlisted David Sylvian to sing and write lyrics for a pair of songs here and the obvious single was the jazz pop of “Buoy.” It was full of hooks yet left field enough to satisfy on that level. You know… the Prog level. This wonderful single had 3/4 of JAPAN playing and singing on it and it suggested that the band who had made “Tin Drum” still had some fight left in them.
Ambient washes of synth heralded “Land,” the one song here where Karn did not compose the music. This was a berth given to Steve Jansen and it fit right into the album like a puzzle piece. The gentle marimba wove a haunting melody through the number while it retained the methodical rhythmic bearing of much of the music here. This was music that was quietly insistent and it would brook no interruptions of its forward movement, no matter how slowly it progressed.
The second half of the album began with “The Three Fates” which was one of the lighter moments here. The lead melody gave Karn a chance to give his expressive accordion playing the spotlight. Sounding here like nothing less than Toots Thielmans playing one of his harmonica solos that fairly radiate sunlight. The song is so soulful, you’d be forgiven for not noticing that this was the second song title cribbed from ELP in the album!
The second song with David Sylvian singing was “When Love Walks In,” A somber ballad, it felt more like something from Sylvian’s “Brilliant Trees” album than the first song. The jazzy underpinning kept the song half hidden in shadow. This led aptly into the title track that followed. “Dreams Of Reason” was a melody that stated its theme and kept it moving in a multipart rondo for the entirety of the brief song.
Finally, the mood, which has been darkening ever since “When Love Walks In,” calcified with the closing chorale “Answer.” The album was ending on a serious, questing note as the church organ and massed choirs of children, women, and men erupted into a fully blown hymn.
Karn felt that the album had been a flawed reaction to the accolades he had collected for his bass playing up to that point, and his insecurities with that praise fostered the intention here to stake his claim as a composer as opposed to a bassist. He considered it his weakest album, but I can’t disagree more, no matter how much I cherish his fretless playing. The studious tone of this album, with hints of lighter playfulness, mark it was a sound that grabs me by the lapels and doesn’t let go for the very swift 40 minutes of its running time.
When I hear this album, it feels to me like the next logical step of a mind that had already created the amazing “Sons Of Pioneers” six years earlier. I’ll go further and claim that of all of the post-JAPAN albums, this one is the one that I return to the very most as it never fails to delight the ear and mind.
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