|Year of release||1981|
Today 35 (!) years old: Japan’s fantastic and utterly unique Tin Drum.
Tin Drum is an album that essentially can’t be categorized. It is a unique album in the history of popmusic. No other album has blended electronics with analogue Eastern instruments so successfully. The songs on this album all have the same (for lack of a better word) zen-like quality. It would turn out to be Japan’s last studio-album.
Leading up to Tin Drum
Japan, started as a glamrock band late 1970’s, developed itself with dazzling speed. First LP Adolescent Sex (from 1978) was glam through and through. The single with the same name was my introduction to the band. A great song. The same year Obscure Alternatives was released. Particularly The Tenant gave an impression which way the band would develop in the upcoming years. A beautiful atmospheric song. Quiet Life was characterized by heavy slow pieces, that had a Joy Division like intensity. A sombre album. Gentlemen take Polaroids was made by a band that wanted a new direction. The music was full of fantasy and diverse, as evidenced by the phenomenal Swing. With Nightporter the album contained a real ‘teenager-hit’ for alternative youth, like David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Forbidden Colours was the Careless Whisper for ‘people with taste’, a couple of years later).
In April of 1981 the band released the 12-inch The Art Of Parties, a genius song, that intertwined new wave, funk and electronics to one irresistible unity. Just for this song alone, in this version, Japan deserves a statue. On this maxi-single everything fit, including the B-side Life Without Buildings, which was just as great. The album (Tin Drum) followed today, to the day, 35 years ago.
The album started off, however, with a disappointing… The Art Of Parties. Re-recorded and mixed, this version lacks the funk which made the first version so irresistible. Not off to a good start. Luckily all turns out well after this. Talking Drum bumps and grinds through the whole song, and is a fine example of what Japan tyries to do here, and at which they succeed. Ghosts follows. This song was released as a single and is one of the most strange hits ever. That this song became a hit (particularly in England) is nothing short of amazing. A minimalistic ballad. Up next is Canton, a Chinese, instrumental, mantra. This is so different from everything I had heard before (it really still is) it transports you, in some way, to rural China. Fascinating!
Side B start off with the great Still Life In Mobile Homes. Following that the highlight of the album, and of Japan’s entire career: Visions Of China. David Sylvian’s singing, the stunning fretless bass playing by Mick Karn: beautiful. But in this song the great drummer Steve Jansen really shines. His drumming in this song is phenomenal. He was even able to play this live. Brilliant song. The atmospheric Sons Of Pioneers and the China-theme of Cantonese Boy complete the album.
What Japan accomplished with this album is a small miracle. It is such a shame that the band disbanded, after a tour follwing the album. How well David Sylvian’s career may have ended up and how nice Mick Karn’s solo and Dalis Car albums may have been, Japan as one entity was a unique phenomenon. Midway 1989 the band reconnected once more using the moniker Rain Tree Crow. The album bearing the same title was good, very good even, but was unable to suppress the (solo)tendency: too much atmosphere, too little music. My favorite album by Japan is their last one: live album Oil On Canvas, because it sums up their later career so beautifully. A lot of attention is given to songs off this album. no less than 7 of the 8 songs are also included on this live-album. By the way, The Art Of Parties funky version, gets a deserved reprise on the live-album.
Do you know the album? Do you know Japan? What do you think?
Let me know; leave a comment!
Japan band image: wikipedia.org
Adolescent Sex single image: ultratop.be
The Art Of Parties image: eil.com
Tin Drum image: 991.com