It was some time earlier this year when there was a discussion on the Trouser Press Forum that I frequent regarding Rob Dean, the original guitarist for JAPAN. Talk turned to Illustrated Man; the New Wave “supergroup” that was formed by Dean, Hugo Burnham [ex-Gang of 4], Roger Mason [ex-Gary Numan] and one Philip Foxman [ex-Supernaut; a 70s OZ band unknown to me]. The first three members made Illustrated Man an “item” for me to possibly buy in its 1984 release environment, but tepid reviews from those who had already committed dissuaded me from taking the plunge.
On the forum I maintained that it’s precisely the sort of record, 40 years later, that I snap up without a second thought. Such is the mission statement of Post-Punk Monk. Music writer Michael Toland, who had the record, came down on the side of “nay” in his discussion of its merits. After the passing of some months, I got an email from him. He had decided to remove it from his personal Record Cell. Would I have an interest in it? Sure! I’m not one to turn down offers for free records of interest. So he sent it off a week ago and I looked for it to arrive this week.
Meanwhile, other wheels were turning. I got an email from commenter schwenko regarding the xPropaganda Blu-ray. He had ordered two by mistake. Did I want to take one off of his hands? Well, not this time, since I had also ordered my copy, which would arrive a few days later. But I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and mentioned the irony in the fact that I had no Blu-Ray player to actually play the disc on! And I had not yet ordered a CD copy! But I felt that the limited edition of an xPropaganda variant was best purchased now instead of regretted later. Five beats later, schwenko asked me if I wanted his old Blu-Ray player he had laying around and had not yet dispensed with…! So that time I said “well, sure!”
On Tuesday, the Illustrated Man EP from Mr. Toland arrived in the mail, and after thanking him for it, I actually digitized side one of it with the notion of hearing and reviewing it as soon as possible. If people actually send me music, the least I can do is review it promptly. That same day I also got a note from schwenko, with the tracking number for the Blu-Ray player. He cryptically stated that he included a CD that might be of interest. I have been too busy to actually check the tracking info from that email and the package arrived yesterday.
Last night I opened the box to see that, leiber gott in himmel… schwenko had included the not strictly legal, but otherwise very competently made CD of “Illustrated Man” for my listening pleasure. Like what I might make for myself, but an actual manufactured CD, albeit banned from sale on Discogs.com. Complete with three bonus tracks not on the US six track EP! Paging Carl Jung to the white courtesy phone! There are some times that the universe is whacking you upside the head with a cosmic 2″ x 4″…and this is one of those times!
Illustrated Man: Illustrated Man – RUS – CD 
- Head Over Heels [single mix]
- Just Enough
- Fall From Grace
- Moving Forward
- Days Without End
- Head Over Heels [double mix]
- Songs Of the Heart
- Just Enough [extended mix]
The choice of personal favorite producer John Punter to helm the sessions showed that they really wanted some of his smooth, glossy mojo that first got my notice with the excellent Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music albums he oversaw. He later proved his worth in the more contemporaneous era with stellar recordings by JAPAN and Spoons leading up to 1984 and there’s every reason why he would want to work again with Rob Dean on this project. He was so enamored of that band that he mixed their live sound. As the Shoot That Tiger! cover art made plainly clear, it sure seemed like EMI was looking to have another Duran Duran on their hands with Illustrated Man. The painterly cover design called back to the similarly baroque cover art of Duran Duran’s “Seven + the Ragged Tiger” from the year before.
My first listen to the band with their single “Head Over Heels” did nothing to dispel that notion. High-pressured rhythm guitar competing with white noise percussion blasts [you couldn’t call them drums, though Simmons Drums also figured here, naturally] and lowing synths has that dance-funk vibe that Double Duran™ were then currently working like the pros they were. Actually, the vibe here really managed to prefigure that Elegant Rock sound that INXS were moving towards. One could sense the seeds of a track like “New Sensation” vividly here. Not wanting to miss a trick, Steve Thompson was brought in to remix this single.
“Just Enough” was the other single from this EP and another remix heavyweight, John Luongo, was given the remix duties to make certain that it also had the requisite moxie to pop in the hyperkinetic 1984 sonic environment. This was a less brash effort than the first track. I had to appreciate the sentiment behind this one. “I want just enough to get me by” were words to live by of a sort rarely hears in Pop music. The oscillating sequencers and sprightly high-life touches gave this one a a giddy spring in its step that was pretty likable.
The more downtempo “Fall From Grace” aimed for slower, funkier vibes and the bass synth was given a prominence here that was perhaps undermined by the mannered, AOR vocals from Foxman that were beginning to exert drag on the whole phenomenon of Illustrated Man. And the spoken word middle eight was the second time that gambit had been unleashed in the three songs thus far.
The Fairlight riffs in “Moving Forward” really were really prefiguring the sound of Arcadia to imminently come by the next year. The finely etched production quality of the music was perhaps down to the zeitgeist in music production at the time. I think everyone was swimming in the same pool and the tech coming to market had a tendency to be adopted and summarily dropped in ever quickening cycles. Leading to the time stamped sonic fingerprint here that was as much a part of this music as the notes in the songs themselves. But when it resulted in an instrumental middle eight that cooked as well as the one here, then I was willing to cut some slack. There are some sounds I can certainly give a pass to.
The times meant that the band had to give a mid-tempo ballad a shot. And that meant that the results ended up in John Waite territory, naturally. The penchant of all concerned to mix all of the songs so that the material hit near the dreaded 4:30 target was also another infraction one could levy against the band here. Rigidly defined song length is one of my musical bêtes noires. it’s striking how a grouping of songs of approximately the same length can get under my skin.
The US EP ended with the 12″ mix of “Head Over Heels” and sure, it got more space to weave its dynamic spell, with a longer buildup but the last 90 seconds featured an impressive drop where only the thunderous rhythm held sway for a bit of dubspace with the frantic rhythm guitar going head to head with the white noise until it dropped out completely, giving Foxman the last word with his reprise of the middle eight voice over.
“Sensation” was the band’s self-produced B-side to the “Just Enough” single and it was the outlier here to something a little more left field. The high gloss of Punter was absent, but they made up for it with the quirk factor. Foxman’s vocal was a dispassionately affected almost emotionless delivery with vocal FX making it even more distant. While almost cartoonish synth interjections were adding subtle filigree in the song’s periphery. Alas, it lasted about a minute longer than it should have.
A frantic programmed hi-hat not unlike what Prince made the centerpiece of “I Would Die For U” was the foundation of “Songs From the Heart,” The B-side to the 7″ version of “Head Over Heels.” This one had uncredited sax further tying it to the mid 80s but an admirably chaotic middle eight kept this one in my good graces. Especially by the time of the fiery extended coda. A modestly extended “Just Enough” filled out the program but there were still two more mixes of “Head Over Heels”‘ from that 12” that were missing in action here. That never would have passed muster if this had been one of my projects. Not with my curating OCD!
When all was said and done, I sort of get what the antipathy had been to this EP. Both from Mr. Toland and my peers nearly 40 years ago This was never going to be an album to put on a shelf with “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” or “Quiet Life.” As I said, this was aiming at the much more lucrative Duran Duran target. But in aiming a bit lower, at least corners weren’t noticeably cut. John Punter was producing this so it still sounded glossy and appealing.
In the cosmic scheme of things, this sat comfortably on a shelf with the contemporaneous Re-Flex material. And when comparisons were made against the Fab Five Durans, I will certainly give Illustrated Man the edge in the all-important songwriting. This material reeked of “Seven + the Ragged Tiger” with the exception that the songs are much stronger than what the dissipated Durans were capable of writing at that point in time. Moreover, it strongly pointed at where the Arcadia project would shortly go, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
I think that the lukewarm reaction of many ears to this ultimately was down to the AOR affectation of vocalist Philip Foxman. He was brushing on the angst just a little too diligently here and as much as one could get lost in the whipped cream Dance-Funk of it all, he’s striking a pose that’s just a little too common. But it’s been fun to finally hear this and to pick through the remains of a career that never quite achieved critical mass, in spite of giving it their best shot. Now I am thinking of getting that “Head Over Heels” US 12″ and finishing the job begun on this CD.
As it happens, Robert is my best friend, albeit one that lives over 4K miles from me in Costa Rica. IMan is certainly a little gem but all of them could do better, ultimately.
The CD you mention originates from Russia where a Friday guy called Oleg was kind enough to send a free copy for Robert in exchange for a couple of signed sleeves. Poacher and gamekeeper working hand in hand….the CD is remastered (quite well) and they clearly had access to the original artwork to make the sleeve. I’d love to put this out on my label legitimately with the rest of the album that was never meant to be but no response from the record company…..
Robert (not Rob these days)went on to do great work with artists such as Sinead O’Connor, ABC, etc before settling for a while in Oz, releasing ‘World Of Wonders’ by The Slow Club.
That was it – more or less – for 30 years before forming Light Of Day in CR and recording the ‘Dimensions’ album and accompanying’La Inmensidad’ Spanish language e.p. as well as a electronic meeting of minds with Martin Birke of Genre Peak with the ‘Triptych+’ CD: all three are excellent and released on my label, Last Word Music. Check out Burning Shed and Bandcamp for the releases.
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Alone With Strangers – IM was a flawed gem, but certainly of interest. Robert was employing a radically different tone on that work to the JAPAN work. I have the Vivabeat album, but have not yet played it [story of my life]. I have not yet performed forensic analysis on the mastering in my editor, but simply cranking the fades in my car was bereft of the usual telltale artifacts. Either they cut the fades early [ancient Chinese secret…] or someone had access to CEDAR no-noise technology in the mastering from vinyl. p.s. Links in comments need admin approval and this is my hobby, so sometimes there is a lag time for me to approve a comment – especially if I’m not at work.
Ah! That helps explain some of the issues I was experiencing when trying to post and also WordPress couldn’t decide whether I was logged in or not: every time i tried to submit the comment it told me I needed to log in. Clearly it was fibbing.
I think they managed to get hold of a production master transfer from somewhere is the Universal empire. The fact that they seem to have original artwork makes that seem less of an outlandish notion than you would otherwise think. Why they decided “I know, let’s go and release the iMan recordings” when the audience for such a release is likely to be you, me and 17 other people worldwide, god only knows.
alonewithstrangers – I have a fairly liberal comment setting on the blog. 1st comment needs my approval than after that you’re on you own as long as there are no links. Which I am set to approve, but otherwise get thrown into the spam or trash folder automatically. Lest this place be a haze of spampron.
I’d not yet thrown a raw file into Au to see the spectral analysis [does so – whistles] …Yeaaaaah, so that really did sound as good as it felt in my car. A high quality mastering job [better than many legit issues] likely from a production source “liberated” for the not so massive audience of Illustrated Man, as you say! I just also looked at the cover in the sunlight. Lots of detail in the shadow areas that gets obliterated from an LP scan! So a leak then? Fascinating, Captain. But they still used the wrong fonts! And the jewel box tray was conspicuously missing the “Compact Disc” licensed logo where the blank spot for it obviously was.
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Well, hopefully someone clicks on the links and buys some of his new stuff. I take nothing from the income except direct costs and the rest goes to the artists. Not a pension for any of them but I think it helped with some of the issues faced by the self-employed during the pandemic.
alonewithstrangers – Great to hear your aims as a microlabel. Dave Turner recently turned up in the Jesse Rae comment thread as the gent who also runs a non-profit label intended to simply help the artists – also including Tik + Tok, among others. It’s an idea I could get behind. If two people commenting in threads here are doing it, how many others are? It makes me think of organizing the various non-profit music labels into a collective that would perhaps have some heft and fill a needed niche in the music world. If the motive of profit is removed from the equation, a lot more becomes possible.
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Maybe, if it were to help with distribution and awareness but many of the ‘micro-labels’ are also very proud of their identity, character and principles. The risk of any such group/committee/forum is that those characters are homogenised and their valued principles undermined at the expense of having.a voice in the industry, as we saw with the UK indies in the 90s.
So much more to Robert than iMan…..
alonewithstrangers – Right? IM was certainly a minor chapter for all involved.
You hit the nail on the head with the problem with Illustrated Man. Songs, production, remixes were all fine. Rob Dean shines on many of them, but Phil Foxman’s vocals never sat well with me. Absolutely too mannered, as you put it, Monk.
I haven’t thought of this in years. Grabbed the 12” from a used record store ages ago largely on the sleeve and the era (it was the purple one, not the shoot the tiger one as you called it). The song didn’t do anything for me, just no magical alchemy happening here. Didn’t know at the time there was Japan alumni involved and that piece of trivia was interesting. Revisited the song on You Tube after reading this, still no magic.
Tim – I think of it as the “Seven + The Ragged Tiger” that sort of works for me. Magic is going a bit far.
I didn’t realize Foxman had been in Supernaut, Australia’s entry in the glam rock wars of the 1970s. Being an aficionado of that style and era, I’ve long wanted to get my hands on their LPs. Luckily Foxman was not the ‘Naut’s singer.
I’m glad the EP found a worthy home.
Michael Toland – Thanks again! I never would have imagined that I would be getting two copies of this release the same week from two different people. But it’s true that I was able to perhaps see more to like here than the donors, though I can certainly see where you’re each coming from.