Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Japan 1980 (fanart.tv)

Japan 1980 (fltr: Rob Dean, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen, David Sylvian)


A new direction, a new record company and David Sylvian, who seemed to view the band as his own personal project ever more: the story of Gentlemen Take Polaroids.


After the release of Quiet Life, the unnatural alliance between Japan and record company Hansa became impossible. The band went in search of another partner and found it in Virgin Records. The signing fee the band earned with the move was used to pay Hansa off. Still, morale within the band was high.

Japan - Gentlemen Take Polaroids (electricityclub.co.uk)

Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Gentlemen Take Polaroids

On October 24th, 1980, the fourth Japan album Gentlemen Take Polaroids was released, the debut on Virgin Records. The musical direction, which was set in motion on the preceding Quiet Life album, was built upon. The musicians, who weren’t schooled, were growing ever more confident with every release and were more capable of getting their message and music across. New technological possibilities were put to full use. The number of synthesizers in use was enormous: ARP Omni, Polymoog, Roland Jupiter 4, Sequential Prophet 5, Oberheim OBX, Micromoog and Roland System 700.

David Sylvian, the music and lyric writer, was demanding more control in the studio, causing bad vibes among the other band members and making guitar player Rob Dean’s role in the band virtually obsolete. On the other hand, guest musicians were invited, like Ryuichi Sakamoto (Taking Islands In Africa) and violin player Simon House (My New Career), known for his work with David Bowie. Apart from his (musical) perfectionism, Sylvian also directed the way the band was presented visually.

Luckily, the quality of the music didn’t suffer. Songs like the truly phenomenal Swing, which almost sounded erotic, the title song, the Bowie-Berlin-period piece Burning Bridges and the Erik Satie pastiche Nightporter, all show that the band (and Sylvian in particular) was able to write and record beautiful songs.

Japan - Gentlemen Take Polaroids - Ad (moma.org)

Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids – Ad


After the band’s demise, David Sylvian wasn’t too positive about his work with Japan, which also applied to Gentlemen Take Polaroids:

I don’t think it’s the best thing we’ve done. It was a very hard album to make because there was a lot of strain in the studio. The feeling between members of the band wasn’t too good, because I was putting limitations on them, because I was after a certain sound. I’m happy with how it sounds – the thing is that I was growing out of it before we’d finished it; we worked on it for too long. I’d already begun to pull away from ‘muzak’.

(David Sylvian on Gentlemen Take Polaroids

As usual, the press wasn’t impressed and seemed especially annoyed by the band’s and Sylvian’s image. The record did show promise, as it sold better than the preceding Quiet Life. Understandable, because, as far as I’m concerned, Gentlemen Take Polaroids is the grown-up version of Quiet Life. Where the predecessor contained a number of meandering songs, Gentlemen Take Polaroids didn’t contain any weak links (although the Ain’t That Peculiar cover never did it for me).

And, the album did bring me Erik Satie. Nightporter is (strongly) inspired on Gymnopédie #1. When albums inspire me to go in search of more and different music, they stay with me forever. So, Gentlemen Take Polaroids? Highly recommended!

Japan - Gentlemen Take Polaroids - The singles (discogs.com)

Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids – The singles


Two singles were culled from the album:

  • Gentlemen Take Polaroids
    (release prior to the album as a double single, containing two songs not on the album: The Experience Of Swimming and The Width Of A Room)
  • Nightporter
    (released in October 1982 after the public announcement that Japan would disband)


All songs written by David Sylvian, unless stated otherwise.

  • Gentlemen Take Polaroids
  • Swing
  • Burning Bridges
  • My New Career
  • Methods Of Dance
  • Ain’t That Peculiar (written by Smokey Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore, Marvin Tarplin, Bobby Rogers)
  • Nightporter
  • Taking Islands In Africa (written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian)
Japan - Mick Karn & David Sylvian (pinterest.com)

Japan – Mick Karn & David Sylvian


  • David Sylvian – vocals, synthesizers, piano, guitar
  • Mick Karn – bass, oboe, saxophone, recorder
  • Steve Jansen – drums, synthesizers, percussion
  • Richard Barbieri – synthesizers, sequencer, piano
  • Rob Dean – guitar, e-bow

Helped by:

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto – synthesizers
  • Simon House – violin on My New Career
  • Cyo – vocals on Methods Of Dance
  • Barry Guy – bass
  • Andrew Cauthery – oboe

After Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Early 1981 the band went on a short tour in support of Gentlemen Take Polaroids, followed by the release of one of the best maxi singles in May 1981: The Art Of Parties, which in turn was followed by a tour under that same name and the inevitable departure of guitar player Rob Dean. Next up in Japan history was the road to Tin Drum and the eventual demise of Japan.

In closing

What do you think of Gentlemen Take Polaroids? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!