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Japan Gentlemen Take Polaroids  album cover
3.08 | 72 ratings | 16 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1980

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Gentlemen Take Polaroids (7:08)
2. Swing (6:23)
3. Burning Bridges (5:23)
4. My New Career (3:52)
5. Methods of Dance (6:53)
6. Ain't That Peculiar (4:40)
7. Nightporter (6:57)
8. Taking Islands in Africa (5:12)

Total Time 46:26

Bouns Tracks 2004 Remastered CD:
9. The Experience of Swimming (4:04)
10. The Width of a Room (3:14)
11. Taking Islands in Africa - Steve Nye remix (4:57)


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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

David Sylvian / vocals, guitar, keyboards
Mick Karn / bass guitar, saxophone, oboe
Rob Dean / guitar
Steve Jansen / drums and percussion
Richard Barbieri / keyboards

Releases information

LP:Virgin V2180

Thanks to darqdean for the addition
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Caroline World Service 2007
Audio CD$4.47
$5.90 (used)
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Hybrid SACD - DSD · Import
Imports 2017
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Limited Edition · Remastered · Import
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$4.75 (used)
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Import · Remastered
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Audio CD$37.49
$42.99 (used)
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Audio CD$9.72
$2.07 (used)
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Import · Remastered
Virgin (Japan) 2003
Audio CD$59.98
$40.14 (used)

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JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids ratings distribution

(72 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(36%)
Good, but non-essential (26%)
Collectors/fans only (11%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
1 stars O stars actually!!

With this atrocious fourth album, Japan dips very low into the new wave electro-pop that was so hateful of those early 80's. Sounding like a cross of Roxy Music (at best and mostly due to the vocals) and Human League (yup, I puked too!!). With a puffed-up tart-like look on the album cover, Sylvain is clearly taking the artsy-fartsy road but unfortunately forgetting the artsy part. This album is loaded with disgusting instruments such as programmable drums, keyboards and other loatheable inventions of that shameful 80's decade. I believe by now, Japan wanted to be included in the new romatics caste that MTV had created for the sole purpose of their own self-importance. And That Japan sounded like Spandau Ballet was indeed making things worst. Let's forget that Adam Ant and pretend the whole thing never happened!

Worse, not only are some of the works insufferably bad and even offensive, the group takes the option of lengthening them to disgraceful lengths: the 7-min title track and Methods Of Dancing, both overstay their respective welcome (by 6 minutes, and I wish it wasn't a joke ;-), and in the same frame of mind so are the ugly Swing (well over 6-mins) and the ambient Burning Bridges & Nightporter (well over the 5 and under 7 minutes, respectively), where less than nothing happens. Not that in any way, the shorter tracks are any better (as clearly shown by the loathsome My New Career), but the lowest point of the album is the reprise of Ain't That Peculiar, even if its percussive back track holds a bit of interest. The awful closer is another track aiming at those early-80's new wave audiences enjoying the Non-Human-League or the equally ugly Duran Duran.

A truly excruciatingly bad album, that deserves the old (and retired) 0-star rating, along with its equally horrible two follow-up albums. Best carefully-avoided.

Review by Tom Ozric
3 stars 'Gentlemen Take Polaroids' is a cool, slick journey straight into the jugular of the 80's New Wave scene, not only presenting the public with a sophisticated look of blow-waved hairstyles and crisp, freshly pressed suits, but also providing listeners with an intellectual take on the current trend in music. Robert Palmer this is NOT ! From my P.O.V., it's the creative Fretless Bass work of Mick Karn (whom also possesses the skill of playing oboe and saxes), and Richard Barbieri's Synth textures which save the day and make some of Japan's albums a worthwhile listen.

Quite a number of tracks on this album are well into the 6 minute mark, the title track being over 7 mins long, with the song structures generally kept simple, repetitive and seldom challenge the listener with any complexities, but it's this minimalistic approach that generates the entire purpose of their music. Rob Dean is still on board with a strong guitar presence, drummer Steve Jansen keeps a solid beat, occasionally embellishes the rhythms with his various percussions, and the Bass and Keys just fall into place. I'm a sucker for the longer cuts presented here, especially the track 'Swing' - again it's the synth work and Bass that never fails to impress. 'Nightporter' is an extremely beautiful example of melancholic piano and synth composition, totally transcending any musical fad from that period, and we are also treated to some slightly darker, ambient moments, like what's featured on the piece 'Burning Bridges' (no, not a cover of the Floyd track off 'Obscured by Clouds' !!). Overall, it's this album (my personal preference) and 'Tin Drum' that I find engaging and have no hesitation in awarding 3 stars. Please try.

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
1 stars There is no denying this album had a major influence on the New Wave scene, but Japan were also distinctly different to a lot of other music outthere at the time like OMD later, for instance. Japan were an excellent band overall but Gentleman Take Polaroids represents the worst they had to offer. Very dated sounding album compared to their more vintage sound of the 80's. I find it disjointed and lacking depth somehow which is the total antithesis of what David Sylvian and vintage Japan is all about. For completionists only.
Review by ZowieZiggy
1 stars This is another jewel from "Japan" (just kidding).

If you consider that the opening number is usually one of the best of an album, the worse can be expected with "Gentlemen Take Polaroids".

Since there were little reviews for this album, I read the few ones available. So, basically, there are little to add. The band dig further and further in these electro-beat sounds and plays some sub-par (but premonitory) new romantic music.

Still, some of the most representative bands of the genre will release their debut album a year later than this "Polaroid" stuff. But IMO, in their EARLY life "Classix Nouveau", Duran Duran" or even "Spandau Ballet" released more interesting music than this poor "Japan" album.

I could start a poll on the forum to define which is the worse song from this album. My guess is that "Swing" has all its chances to win the trophy, but "Ain't That Peculiar" is also close to the golden medal.

One of the few bearable track is "Burning Bridges". But it is not a very original song. Fully borrowed to "Subterraneans" from "Bowie" on his great album "Low" released in 1977 while the next two ("My New Career " and "Methods of Dance" have a Roxy flavour (second era, their least interesting one IMO). The same applies to the last two songs from this album. But don't expect great tracks like "Same Old Scene". The ones featured on this album are mellowish, uninspired and dull.

This is NOT a good album. Three out of ten, downgraded to one star since it would be very difficult to raise it to two stars.

Review by obiter
2 stars Japan are like Deep Purple (bet you never thought that you'd read that) in that they will suffer for being in the ever widening umbrella of prog. Both bands have their niche (DP's is obviously quite a bit larger) but they both suffer from being reviewed in a prog context.

For me Tin Drum was the definitive Japan album. A definite 5 stars for in any Modern Romantic collection.Gentlemen Take Polaroids was a trailing second. Nevertheless, Mick Karn produced a bass sound that I thought unique at the time. It was a sort of fretless Wal that I hadn't seen or heard before: but then again it could be a Travis Bean.

Anyway, for the proggers out there who want to listen to this modern romantic album my best advice is to concentrate on the relationship between Sylvian and Karn and ry to put aside the obvious Vocal similarities with Roxy Music. There is something quite unusual, dynamic and rewarding in thisJapan album but it takes some aural blinkers from a prog perspective.

Ultimately I fail to see the prog element in this album but the style of Karn easily salvages it from the one star prog waste disposal.

PS ... as for the Keyboardist whatever happened to him ;-)

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Gentlemen take Polaroids is the fourth studio album in three years from Japan. The band has really developed their sound in those three years and from being only partially enjoyable on their first two albums they made a really good album with their third release called Quiet Life. Quiet Life was much more keyboard dominated than their first two releases and keyboardist Richard Barbieri ( now Porcupine Tree) really seemed to have a more prominant role in the band on that one. That tendency continues on Gentlemen take Polaroids which is a very keyboard/ synth heavy affair and very much ahead of it´s time if you ask me.

The music on Gentlemen take Polaroids reminds me of other early synth pop/ new wave bands from the early eighties like New Order, Depeche Mode, A-ha, Duran Duran and Talk Talk. Talk Talk has really listened to Japan for inspiration that´s for sure. I hear many similarities between the two bands. Their art rock approach to the genre being the most obvious one. But certainly also because of the high compositional level of the music from both bands. Japan is not your average new wave band even though there are similarities between their music and the more light weight bands of that genre.

The songs are all excellent and even though this music might not appeal to many prog heads it´s still of a very high quality IMO. Songs like the title track, Swing ( with cool brass playing from Mick Karn) and Methods of Dance ( with what sounds like Kate Bush singing backing vocals?) are great songs while the more emotional and slow songs Burning Bridges and The Nightporter are excellent too. The bonus tracks on the 2004 CD-Remaster are in fact very good additions to the original album. Taking Islands in Africa appears in a remixed version that is even better than the original and we also get two unreleased songs in The Experience of Swimming and the beautiful instrumental The Width of a Room.

The musicianship is great here. David Sylvian´s voice is emotional and deeper than on the early releases. I´m very fond of his singing style. Mick Karn takes the prize here though with his powerful and inventive basslines and his great sax and trombone moments.

The production is excellent. Much better than most other contemporary releases from other bands. Deep and soft, pleasant and emotional.

There are not many appreciative words about this album from other reviewers but let me state that I think this album is excellent and deserves 4 stars regardless of what others might think. This is not truly progressive but less will do when the music is as good as this. Fans of the three first Talk Talk albums should definitely take a listen here even though Gentlemen take Polaroids is much better than the first two albums from Talk Talk. I´m really happy that I have discovered Japan and to think that I have found them via a progressive rock site is pretty strange and ironic too.

Review by Bonnek
4 stars Japan took another leap with Gentlemen Take Polaroids, away from their euro-disco art rock roots and into unique and original territories. Japan's evolution must have had a strong influence on countless other kids on the block, like Gary Numan, Talk Talk, Simple Minds and many others.

Except for Sylvian's poignant Ferry meets Bowie vocals, the comparison with Roxy music has become rather flimsy. Of course, if you would not be familiar with the sound of the 80's, then it's still a useful reference. Also an echo of Eno (Bowie's Berlin years) can be heard in the atmospheric moments like the intro of Burning Bridges. Keyboards had become cheap and easy to play, leading to a new generation of keyboard players that were adhering to an entirely different use of synths then the exhausting Keith Emerson battering of a few years earlier. Suddenly texture and a new original atmospheric sound became more important then soloing. It makes this music definitely non-prog but all the more progressive and influential on future generations of keyboardist. Quite ironically, that influence also extended back into prog, even Geddy Lee picked it up!

The song writing has matured immensely since the previous album Quiet Life. Comparing it with the first two Japan albums is even impossible. While Quiet Life could still be discarded as new wave, this albums has musicianship and song adventures that were leagues ahead of other bands of their generation. Methods of Dance is even more proggy then new wave to my ears, of course it sounds entirely different and the amazing rhythmic tandem of Karn and Jansen often goes into cold disco territories.

Another element that got a growing grip on Japan's sound is the Oriental influence, it can be heard on multiple songs here as on Ain't That Peculiar. It's a path they would further explore on the ensuing album. Also Taking Islands in Africa and the amazing My New Career are marked with influences from world music. One of the highlights of the album is the exceptionally emotive Nightporter, where Sylvian's croon creeps around Barbieri's improvisations on Satie's Gymnopédies, pop meets classical music again.

This album is obviously not recommended to people with 80's allergies and it also isn't entirely perfect. But that is rarely the case with innovative music. It's a solid 4 star album that received a lot of predictable and irrelevant 80s bashing here.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
2 stars Prog related? Probably. David Sylvian did some albums with Fripp, and Mick Karn played with david Torn. But I wouldn't say this album itself was prog.

The music is brooding, somewhat inventive new wave, with Sylvian moaning like Bryan Ferry with a better ear for pitch. The saving grace, and the reason I own it is Mick Karn's unique bass playing. His style of fretless bass uses mostly Middle Easten sounding licks, in a eerie snakelike pattern. I've heard no one else like him, and the songs where he gets to stretch out are the better ones on this album.

As new wave, this album is very good. But as prog... 2.5 stars.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars I found "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" to be a very interesting and intriguing listen. While you can hear that this album must have influenced the New Wave style that was about to hit, this isn't that melodic or catchy.There's nothing on here that I could see as even remotely being considered a hit single.Yet that 80's vibe is here with those synths and guitar sounds especially, but also the electronic sounding beat. I've never been a huge fan of Sylvian's vocals but he keeps it fairly laid back and reserved which for me is a good thing.The bass and sax from Mick Karn is impressive to say the least. And of course Barbieri on synths and Jansen on guitar are always top notch. Interesting too to see the songs average in at almost 6 minutes. So yes this is intriguing with that flavour of new Wave and Pop yet stretching it out in that Brian Eno style. An interesting mix.There's no doubt that this was an influencial album, and as others have mentioned TALK TALK comes to mind first.

"Gentelmen Take Polaroids" is one of my favourites. Sure everything hints at the eighties style of music that was about to open the door (this was released in 1980) but I like it ! "Swing" kicks in at 30 seconds and vocals arrive a minute in. Sax in this one too. Nice. I like the synths after 4 1/2 minutes. "Burning Bridges" sounds like Electronic-Prog and the synths get loud after 1 1/2 minutes. Sax follows and we don't get vocals until after 4 1/2 minutes. "My New Career" has a solid beat with synths as the vocals join in. Sax before 1 1/2 minutes when the vocals stop briefly. "Methods Of Dance" has a beat as the sax plays over top then the tempo picks up and the vocals join in. Excellent sound after 1 1/2 minutes. I like the instrumental section after 4 minutes as well.This is one of the best tracks on here.

"Ain't That Peculiar" is actually a Marvin Gaye cover. Lots of intricate sounds with vocals.The beat is prominant and the synths slowly pulse. "Nightporter" has this laid back piano as the vocals join in. It does get fuller and I like the vocal melodies after 6 minutes. "Taking Islands In Africa" opens with a beat as synths then vocals join in. Love the track "The Experience Of Swimming" a definite top three although I understand that this and "The Width Of A Room" are bonus tracks. Both are instrumentals and they both are fantastic !

3.5 stars but i'm bumping it up. I can appreciate all the 1 and 2 star ratings.This is Prog- Related and as such a target for those who are into Progressive music only. But like Tom Ozric, UMUR and Bonnek I think this was fairly unique in it's day and influential, and have rated it accordingly.

Review by Dobermensch
5 stars Jeez!, this one really has set the cat amongst the pigeons in the Archives. I can fully understand the aloofness most proggers take with regards to the merit of this 'pop' album. Personally, it's one of my all time favourite albums and if you don't like that, then what the hell is it doing here in the first place? Am I supposed to give this a low rating because I Iove it to bits but it appears on the 'Prog Archives'?

Superb fretless bass by the now deceased Mick Karn, enigmatic wobbly vocals by Sylvian, waves of synths by Barbieri , piano by Ryuchi Sakamoto and good solid offbeat drumming by Steve Jansen make this one of the best 80's albums full stop.

It's smooth in the way 'Roxy Music' were in the same era. Japan, however had something far more inventive about them that set them apart from all contemporaries. Über cool, mature for their age and downright sauve without even trying. This is the album that Duran Duran clearly worshipped before they hit the big time. You've only got to look at Nick Rhodes stupid painted face.

Mick Karn's bass is the driving force behind the entire album. Particularly on the first two tacks where it pumps and bleeps like Jaco Pastorius from 'Weather Report'.

Truthfuly I can't write a review of this album without mentioning Bowie's "Low' from '76 which clearly influenced a lot here from side two of that album.

Awash with wonderful electronics, echoey instruments and clear track separation between sounds, this is a superbly clear recording which flows beautifully into my favourite tune of all time... 'Nightporter'. Stunningly beautiful and melancholic. Ryuichi Sakamoto of YMO and his piano makes this utterly gorgeous. Quite simply the best song I've ever heard. These are not small words - In '99 I held a party on New Years Eve where everyone had to bring along their favourite song of all time where it was played after a speech about it's merits. This still stands true today.

'Gentlemen Take Polaroids' is spacious and wide in sound, where everyone gets to play their instruments without any rush and is full of waves of cold keyboards.

The masterful 'Taking Islands in Africa' is a gem in it's own right with Barbierie's proto sequencer coming to the fore. There was only so much New Romanticism could offer, but Japan pushed the boat out so much further than any other band of their time. It's hard to believe that anyone could progress and change so rapidly within the space of 3 years, considering their '78 New York Dolls efforts.

As if all this wasn't enough, if you buy the cd you get the brilliant 'Experience of Swimming' as a bonus. A Richard Barbieri masterpiece, a keyboard driven slab of doom using beautiful sounds that were virtually unheard in those days of long past.

One of my 5 albums of all time.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Japan greeted the arrival of the 1980s with Gentlemen Take Polariods, an album balanced finely between gorgeously crafted New Romantic pop and more esoteric art rock building on the quieter moments of Bowie's Heroes and Low. Some tracks contain echoes of each other - Swing and Taking Islands In Africa borrow lyrics from each other but give them a very different feel with the former being one of the poppier numbers on the album and the latter being a curious closing number. More immediately accessible than the subsequent Tin Drum, this may well be the best place to jump into the world of Japan.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Granted, this is prog RELATED. Not straightforward prog. But this is a well crafted album brimming with the proggy basslines of the late Mick Karn, the smooth vocals of David Sylvian (n' Batt), the solid drumming of David's brother Steve Janse, as well as the synth craftings of future Porcupine T ... (read more)

Report this review (#1370624) | Posted by Cylli Kat | Friday, February 20, 2015 | Review Permanlink

5 stars These reviews on here are ridiculous. I would hardly consider Gentlemen Take Polaroids a prog album, but that doesn't mean it's not a brilliant POP album. I purchased the album on a whim this year and was beyond surprised by what I heard. I expected some catchy Duran Duran-style pop, expec ... (read more)

Report this review (#526934) | Posted by EricBliss | Monday, September 19, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Mellotron Storm, are you serious? You know coming to think of it, I can't be arsed to make a sensible well thought out comment to your moronic drivel. You have to understand that personal taste should not enter in to an objective review, understand? Didn't think so. This album is of its time ... (read more)

Report this review (#514905) | Posted by madcaplaughsagain | Sunday, September 4, 2011 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Ok, Japan and David Sylvain are good. But not Japan music. Is only a New Wave meets Technical POP! And this album isn't the exception. If you love this type of music this album is good, true. But if you don't love this musical genre this Synth POP isn't for you. Really. I'm a right person and when ... (read more)

Report this review (#160231) | Posted by Stige | Wednesday, January 30, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I've been reading progarchives reviews for a long time now. I'm not a Japan fan, nor even an 80's synth fan. I like Floyd, Genesis, John Martyn, Tom Waits and many others. But I know Gentlemen Take Polaroids. It's not essential, and there are a couple of, for me, irrelevant tracks, but most of ... (read more)

Report this review (#148785) | Posted by madwab | Sunday, November 4, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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