Quiet Life: Japan changes direction

Japan 1979 (Fin Costello/gettyimages.com)

Japan 1979 (fltr: David Sylvian, Richard Barbieri, Rob Dean, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen)

Introduction

With the release of their second album Obscure Alternatives the band Japan already showed they could be more than the glam rock they seemed to embrace. The closing The Tenant in particular pointed towards new musical horizons. Quiet Life turned out to be the pivot point.

Giorgio Moroder

Japan and Giorgio Moroder (twitter.com)

Japan and Giorgio Moroder

Following Obscure Alternatives and its accompanying tour, Japan went into a Los Angeles studio with the guru of electronic music, Giorgio Moroder. David Sylvian had written European Son for the occasion, but Moroder thought another song, Life In Tokyo, was a better fit and wanted to record that. He got his way. The song is a huge musical turning point, which wasn’t very successful after its initial and second release. Upon the third release in 1982 the song did become a hit.

Despite high hopes and expectations, the cooperation didn’t last. Moroder wasn’t the ideal producer for the upcoming album.

N.B.: Later on, European Son was recorded without Moroder and appeared as a B-side to the single I Second That Emotion. It was released in 1981 as the B-side to the second (single) release of Life In Tokyo.

Quiet Life

Japan - Quiet Life (spotify.com)

Japan – Quiet Life

The third Japan album, Quiet Life, was released on December 20th, 1979 in Japan, Canada and many European countries. Due to problems with manufacturing the physical albums, it wasn’t released in the United Kingdom until January 4th, 1980. Next to The Clash’ London Calling, it was the second album to be released in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Recordings for the new album commenced in London on September 3rd, 1979. The planned album title Alien was discarded after the release of the 1979 movie with the same name. European Son was considered as well, but was ultimately discarded when the song with that title was left off the album.

The band had contacted Roy Music producer John Punter to produce the album. He was very much enthused by what he had heard from the band, in which he recognized a lot of Roxy Music. He liked the consequences untrained musicianship brought to the table, as the band’s musicians mastered their instruments in a unique and truly original fashion. The rhythm section, made up of Steve Jansen and Mick Karn started to make a real impression and produce their own specific style and sound. Richard Barbieri added a lot as well with his unorthodox way of playing.

The Quiet Life songs were basically composed while in the studio, all but Alien, which had been written prior to the start of recording. After all the music had been recorded, it was time for David Sylvian’s vocals. He used his voice in a completely different way than on the preceding two albums: a crooning tenor voice, which would remain his singing style from then on.

Japan - Quiet Life - David Sylvian in the studio (jansenphotographyblog.wordpress.com)

David Sylvian in the studio

When the mixing was done, the band and producer had really made a connection. So much so, that they would remain working together over the course of the band’s career. John Punter produced all future Japan recordings. He didn’t just produce the studio recordings, he was also responsible for their live sound while out on the road.

Punter provided the band with much-needed confidence, which repaid itself in a new adventurous musical direction yielding beautiful results, which would become increasingly interesting and exciting in the years to come.

The image of the band changed as well. No more references to glam rock, but a more stylized, refined and modern form of masculinity, androgyny was the new standard. Japan introduced the 1980s rather convincingly. The ‘new romantics’ craze that would sweep across England in the next year(s), was more or less introduced by Japan. A label the band strongly distanced itself from.

Review

Later on in his career David Sylvian wasn’t too positive on his work with Japan, but he did remark on Quiet Life:

I still feel very attached to it – unusual for me. We reached a peak with this album – we knew what we were doing.

The album sees the band changing direction, which over time would become ever more interesting and artful. The first cautious steps were taken on Obscure Alternatives, but really matured on Quiet Life. The album sounds immaculate and played an important part in music’s history. Many ‘new romantics’ bands like Spandau Ballet, Visage, Ultravox and Duran Duran paid close attention and took Quiet Life‘s style and sound and ran with it. Japan didn’t really care and by the next album had already moved on to their next phase.

Quiet Life is a beautiful, stylish and peaceful album which contained a potential hit with the title song. It’s rather funny the album sounds very 1980s, yet coming from the 1970s. The album really does point towards things to come, giving a ever more prominent role to electronics.

Japan - Quiet Life - Singles (discogs.com)

Japan – Quiet Life – Singles

Singles

Only two singles have been culled from the album. As unbelievable as it sounds, only Quiet Life was released as a single during the time of the album’s release, and then only in Japan, The Netherlands and Germany. Other releases came year(s) later.

  • Quiet Life
    (released in December 1979 in Japan, in 1980 in The Netherlands and Germany, August 1981 in the UK and Ireland)
  • All Tomorrow’s Parties
    (released in February 1983)

Songs

Japan - Quiet Life - Ad (stickitonyourwall.com)

Japan – Quiet Life – Ad

All songs written by David Sylvian, except All Tomorrow’s Parties, written by Lou Reed.

Side A

  • Quiet Life
  • Fall In Love With Me
  • Despair
  • In Vogue

Side B

  • Halloween
  • All Tomorrow’s Parties
  • Alien
  • The Other Side Of Life

Musicians

  • David Sylvian – vocals, guitar
  • Rob Dean – guitar, background vocals
  • Richard Barbieri – synthesizer, keyboards
  • Mick Karn – bass, background vocals, saxophone, flute
  • Steve Jansen – drums, background vocals, percussion

After Quiet Life

In the spring of 1980, following a successful tour, it became obvious that record company Hansa and Japan were unable to work together anymore. They were diametrically opposed to one another. Image versus art, that was the core of the conflict. A deal was struck to part ways. The band was very much enthused by their new label, which signed the band very quickly. Based on general impression and the way the band was treated by Virgin Records, the band was thrilled and relieved to have gotten away from Hansa.

Japan - Live In Japan EP (youtube.com)

Japan – Live In Japan EP

But Hansa wasn’t done with Japan just yet. In July 1980 the fantastic EP Live In Japan was released. The EP contained live recordings made in Tokyo in March 1980. The songs on the EP: Deviation, Obscure Alternatives, In Vogue and Sometimes I Feel So Low.

Hansa would release singles regularly in the years to come and many, many compilations, of which 1981’s Assemblage is the most interesting, as it contains the re-recorded version of Adolescent Sex, and the single-only releases Stateline, Life In Tokyo, European Son and I Second That Emotion.

The subsequent albums would become even more adventurous and interesting and would make the band be taken more seriously as innovators in the coming years.

In closing

What do you think of Quiet Life? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Quiet Life: Japan changes direction. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

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