JAPAN: Gentlemen Take Polaroids UK 2×7″ 
- Gentlemen Take Polaroids 
- The Experience Of Swimming
- The Width of A Room
- Burning Bridges [alt. ver. – David Sylvian prod.]
“Gentlemen Take Polaroids” will always be a standard bearer of my love of JAPAN. The surprisingly upbeat pop song was the closest that this chronically disconsolate band ever came to sounding euphoric. I still can’t believe that David Sylvian managed to craft a lyric like “breath life into me … spin me ’round,” and sound like he meant it here. It became something much more in its fully 7:00 album version, but the edited by half 7″ single was a pre-release ahead of the “Polaroids” album that followed a month later in November of 1980. It’s always best to experience the sublime glow of “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” in its purest LP form, with an extended coda to melt the staunchest of hearts even as it showcased the contrasting muscular fretless bass of Mick Karn against the delicate keys of Richard Barbieri, which descended on the song like a spring rain. I’m still happy to have it here, truncated into a mere pop song of considerable beauty.
We had to get our fill of the amazing Karn on the A-side, because he didn’t touch the bass on the other three songs here. The first two were completely Karn-free. First up was “The Experience Of Swimming,” an instrument of subtle delicacy. Richard Barbieri was composing alone here, for a change. Sylvian dominated the writing and publishing within the band, but B-sides are where a bone can get tossed to the other members and Barbieri had no problems crafting a beguiling and pensive instrumental based on an echoplexed synth riff that created a hypnotic dynamic with the oboe-like synth patches.
Elsewhere, soon-to-be-ex JAPAN guitarist Rob Dean rose to his occasion as well with “The Width Of A Room.” His Satie-like, synth-laden effort formed a seamless unit with much the same mood as Barbieri had explored on the previous track. It makes me wonder just how much Sylvian sought to control the writing because these tracks were slotted right in to the same place that Sylvian’s writing was heading. I can’t help but feel that Dean was ousted from the band on a bad decision as this shows him capable of the Satie feel that the band would continue to explore until it led them to the breakthrough of “Ghosts” on the next album.
Back in 1982 I had bought the Canadian 12″ of “The Art of Parties” which appended the two instro non-LP B-sides here as a four track EP and the one time I saw this single in the massive import 7″ bins of Record City Fern Park, I saw the three other songs and passed on it. At the time, I had no idea that the version of “Burning Bridges” here was decidedly different. That revelation would wait for the internet and a quarter century to pass.
The real prize here was the alternate version of “Burning Bridges.” The version on the 7″ D-side here was apparently a demo version produced by David Sylvian, instead of John Punter! Like the A-side, it’s shorter than the version on the “Polaroids” album. The long ambient intro that righteously battled vinyl surface noise [and lost] in its heyday was completely lopped off. The song rode in on its round wave synth patch that originally came 1:30 into the LP version. There was still no Mick Karn bass, just [presumably] Sylvian on the bass synths, but Karn still took a long,, soulful sax solo here. The vocal performance sounded very similar, but the EQ and mix was decidedly different than the album version.
I suspect that since “Burning Bridges” displaced “Some Kind Of Fool” at the 11th hour for inclusion on the final running order of “Gentlemen take Polaroids,” [early printings of the LP sleeve list this song instead with a sticker correcting for “Burning Bridges”] it may have been down to Sylvian producing a demo he liked and ceding control to Punter for the longer edit/ possible remix on the album. The balances are very different on the 7″ version but I can’t say the performances differed. Whatever the case, Sylvian was right to push for the inclusion of this song. When “Some Kind of Fool” surfaced [with a new vocal] 20 years later on David Sylvian’s “Everything + Nothing”compilation, it was great to hear, but no “Burning Bridges.”
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