Tin Drum reviews
Five albums and two record companies into a career which has only previously achieved success in their namesake country, Japan have come up with an album which at last frees them from unflattering comparisons with Roxy Music (although David Sylvian's voice still sounds disturbingly similar to Bryan Ferry's strained - and mannered emissions) and places them squarely in the camp currently inhabited by the likes of Ultravox, Orchestra Manoeuvres In The Dark and Gary Numan.
Utilizing tile quite extraordinary rhythmic talents of Mick Karn, whose fretless bass-playing is reminiscent of Weather Report's Jaco Pastorius, and the staccato drum playing of Steve Jansen. Japan have neatly moved from Roxy Music's florid romanticism to a David Byrne-like industrial and electronic starkness. Where this process becomes fascinatingly innovative is in the band's decision to meld their western electronics to oriental rhythms thus, in one stroke, achieving a blend of occidental and oriental, romantic and industrial.
Tracks like "Still Life in Mobile Homes" with Yuka Fujii wailing in the background as synthesisers float and bass and drums punctuate the spaces, or "Canton" and "Cantonese Boy" with their miraculously uncorny Chinese moods, bear witness to this strange amalgum. The wonderfully minimalist "Sons of Pioneers" is equal to, yet quite different from, Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. "Visions of China" has a bizarre counterpointing of almost military drum patterns with wailing, oriental synths. Without exception each track on this album is the work of a very great band at the height of its powers. No one, not even the Yellow Magic Orchestra, has attempted such a unique synthesis. That it works so well should make Tin Drum one of the definitive electronic albums of the 1980's
A Review of Tin Drum by Betty Page
The initial phase of the newly sinewy arrangement of 'Art Of Parties' heralds the new way the funk flirtation has passed, with a heavy absorption of recent Oriental electronicana and not so recent traditional elements having taken its place.
It's no longer of any consequence as to whether the eternal Numan/Sylvian/Ferry triangle overlaps, it's as though David & Co have transcended to another plane. Up to you to say whether it's higher.
In Talking Drum there resides a staccato percussion reminiscent of Takahashi; in the poignant 'Ghosts', ethereal Sakamotoid synth. The distinction is a balladeering Sylvian, doubly introspective, his rich tones contrasting with stark Koto-like electronics.
"Just when I though I could not be stopped / When my chance came to be king The ghosts of my life blew out into the Wind". Self analysis, already.
'Canton' consummates the fascination with the enigmas/austerities of China, a thoughtful melange of full-blown tribalism fused with ethnic synthetics. Sylvian loves his themes and this one threads through like the mother lode, achieving the precise interlocking elements essential to conjure up Yellow Magic.
'Still Life In Mobile Homes' veers towards the avant-garde end of Nipponpop: jazzy, atonal keyboards, tasteful smatterings of Frippish guitar, a smearing of plush, lush melodies, slipping into 'Visions Of China'; dancier, chunkier, slippery-slidier, flexing funkier muscles. More chimes, more pure plucking. Red Army calls 'Cantonese Boy' the one who bangs his tin drum. It's a cleansing experience that reflects Japan's quiet discipline. Haunting but sensually pleasing. Calming and carefully structured, but ultimately maintaining the balance between cold calculation and human feeling.
And that's what touching the right nerves is all about
A Review of Tin Drum by George O'Brien
Japan's fifth album finds them more into Eastern imagery and sound than ever before. From the portrait of Chairman Mao gazing inscrutably over ever-lovely ans ever-melancholy David Sylvian on the album sleeve to the synthesized oriental orchestration it's a cultural exchange all the way. Young English Romantics find art, success and escape in the land of the rising sun; and returned home to find that changeing fashions have softened the critics' and public's hearts to their indulgences. Sylvian's influences are obvious as ever but less annoying as time wears on and Roxy Music fade into the shadow of their past. Japan have served their apprenticeship and now rule their own roost. They deserve the seccess and interest they currently generate.
For lads who couldn't even play their instruments when they left school in 1976 they've come a long way. Percussionist Steve Jansen and bassist Mick Karn weave complicated patterns that sound almost free form at times - but they aren't. Karn plays a fretless bass and uses a flanger, giving a sort of rolling sway to the music. On top of this we have the many synthesizers of Richard Barbieri and Sylvian used, at times, percussively, at times to create moods, and at all times with taste. This record must contain some of te best synth sounds anywhere - rich and evocative.
The cream on the cake is of course the plaintive crooning of Sylvian who wrote or co-wrote all the tracks. It's entirely understandable that some that some people can't stand him but it's also easy to find the appeal. Thankfully his vocals don't dominate the album.
Yuka Fujii helps out with vocals on Still Life in Mobile Homes and Simon House guests on violin histrionics (he palyed on Bowie's Lodger album). Canton is an instrumental that could be the soundtrack to a kung-fu movie...great stuff.
Engineering is by Steve Nye who also co-produced with the band and the result is excellent. If you wanted to find fault with the album you could say that, lyrically and musically, they sometimes try too hard; but forgiveness comes easy considering all the good points.
Not a dance record or even one that demands attention, but perfect for those moody moments after a chop suey. Reccomended buying.
THE ARTICLES ABOVE WERE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ONLINE BY THE NEW WAVE COMPLEX
|Don't rain on my parade: web design and content © 1996 -2011 Paul Rymer unless stated otherwise. All rights reserved. This is a fan appreciation site and is not affiliated to any of the record companies who have released material by Japan. It has not always been possible to establish who the copyright owner is for all of the material on this website. Please feel free to contact the webmaster with any questions.|