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JAPAN

Prog Related • United Kingdom


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Japan biography
JAPAN were formed in 1974 in Lewisham, southeast London, by school friends David Batt (David Sylvian, vocals) and Anthony Michaelides (Mick Karn, bass), and Batt's younger brother, Steve (Steve Jansen, drums). A year later, they were joined by David and Mick's old schoolmate Richard Barbieri on keyboards, and by guitarist Rob Dean, who had responded to an advertisement in the music magazine "Melody Maker"

After a few years spent rehearsing and playing live in Britain and Germany, the band were signed by German recording company Hansa-Ariola. Their debut album, "Adolescent Sex", was released in 1978, as was its follow up, "Obscure Alternatives". At that time, JAPAN'sound was still noticeably influenced by acts such as DAVID BOWIE and ROXY MUSIC, which caused them to be dismissed by the British music press as unfashionable at a time when punk and new wave acts held sway.

Their third album, "Quiet Life", released in 1979, heralded a change in the musical direction of the band, with Barbieri's synthetisers becoming much more prominent. This was the last album for Hansa-Ariola, as the band were then signed by Virgin. Their last two studio albums, "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" (1980) and "The Tin Drum" (1981) were released with the British label, and brought JAPAN some long-awaited success. In particular, "The Tin Drum" reached #12 in the UK album charts.

During that period, Japanese multi-instrumentalist Ryuichi Sakamoto became an unofficial member of the band; in the following years, he continued his collaboration with David Sylvian. In "The Tin Drum", the band's sound became increasingly more sophisticated, blending Western electronics with traditional Far Eastern sounds, and enhanced by Sylvian's haunting baritone voice. However, personal conflicts also escalated, leading first to Rob Dean's departure in 1980, and finally to the band's demise at the end of 1982, after a series of sold-out concerts at London Hammersmith Odeon, which resulted in the live album "Oil on Canvas" (1983). The band's last-ever performance took place in December 1982 in Nagoya, Japan. Ironically, "Oil on Canvas" became the band's best-selling album, charting at #5 in the UK.

After the split, the band members went on to work on various solo projects. The most successful of them has been singer David Sylvian, who has released numerous solo albums over the years. The original members got together again in 1990 under the new name of RAIN TREE CROW, and release...
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Tin DrumTin Drum
Remastered
Caroline World Service 2007
$3.99
Gentlemen Take PolaroidsGentlemen Take Polaroids
Remastered
Caroline World Service 2007
$5.34
$3.94 (used)
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JAPAN discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

JAPAN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.16 | 30 ratings
Adolescent Sex
1978
2.39 | 32 ratings
Obscure Alternatives
1978
3.20 | 53 ratings
Quiet Life
1979
3.16 | 80 ratings
Gentlemen Take Polaroids
1980
3.16 | 76 ratings
Tin Drum
1981

JAPAN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.41 | 38 ratings
Oil on Canvas
1983

JAPAN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

2.43 | 9 ratings
The Very Best Of Japan
2006

JAPAN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.54 | 9 ratings
Assemblage
1981
4.06 | 17 ratings
Exorcising Ghosts
1984
1.88 | 8 ratings
In Vogue
1996
2.36 | 6 ratings
The Very Best of Japan
2006

JAPAN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.09 | 4 ratings
Nightporter
1982

JAPAN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.16 | 80 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by RossJWarren

5 stars Some of the reviews here are an absolute disgrace. Japan's last two LP's are certinly progressive music in the full sense of the word, maybe not to everyone's taste but they deserve a fair listen and review. Gentleman is by far my favorite recording by this wonderfully different band. Maybe their early glam rock efforts were indeed on the weak side but this recording is an absolute masterpiece. Had Japan stayed together they may well have been as big as bands like the Pink Floyd. The melodies are strong and the musicianship is very good indeed. Karn's bass playing is still unique, and added to the vocals give the overall sound a slightly woozy edge. This is what roxy music could have sounded like had Eno not been forced out so early on. Japan were never new romantics, their look and sound predated that movement, but they certinly helped give rise to bands like Duran Duran, who sound like a pale imitation of Japan at their very best.

Such a unique pair of recordings make Gentlemen and Tin drum essential additions to any well rounded prog rock collection. As for the haters one wonders if they listened to the recordings at all. 5 Stars without any hesitation.

 Nightporter by JAPAN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1982
4.09 | 4 ratings

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Nightporter
Japan Prog Related

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I can't say that JAPAN has ever been among my favourite bands. Their clinically synthetic sound is often lacking life & emotion and many songs are just boring, artificial and monotonous. A good example actually comes as the B-side of this non-album single from the latest phase of the band's career, before the frontman DAVID SYLVIAN started a solo career (that has produced a lot of much better music than he made with Japan, in my opinion). Also worth mentioning is the keyboard player Richard Barbieri's membership in Porcupine Tree plus his own projects, e.g. teaming up with Marillion's Stve Hogarth. But back to this single. 'Ain't That Peculiar' is just one of those dead boring Japan tracks. I listened to it from YouTube and have no interest whatsoever to hear it ever again.

But there's something so fantastic about music world: one doesn't have to give a damn about a band/artist in general in order to love a song or two by them/him/her. If I'm deeply moved by a song of someone whom I couldn't care less about as an artist, I'd still let myself fully enjoy that song and simply ignore the rest of the output if it leaves me cold. 'Nightporter' is such case for me. Not necessarily the ONLY Japan song that I like, but by far the best, the one that touches me the deepest. It woud be placed quite high on my list of all-time favourite pop songs.

The song is slow, elegant, nocturnally atmospheric and beautifully melancholic. The rather minimalistic arrangement is dominated by piano, and there's a notable resemblance to the piano music of ERIK SATIE ('Gymnopedies' and such), one of the most unique figures in the world of classical music. I'm not certain if the melody is directly borrowed from a Satie piece. And Sylvian, the vocalist, pours his soul into this tune that is best suited for the late night moments when everyone's tired and it's time to depart or go to sleep. In fact, a couple of times I have played 'Nightporter' at the end of friend gatherings. Greetings to whom this concerns! - How about listening to some more of Japan, Matti? Naah, no thanks, it's so boring.

 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.16 | 80 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by Cylli Kat

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 Tree member Richard Barbieri. I have extremely fond memories associated with this album and its follow-up Tin Drum. So I have a mixed approach to this rating: I love the album and give it 5 stars. BUT it is not exactly prog, so for the sake of those who want a "prog" rating would have to give it 3 stars. Conclusion, 4 stars. Your mileage may vary...
 Quiet Life by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.20 | 53 ratings

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Quiet Life
Japan Prog Related

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Japan's more electronic "Roxy Music meets Ultravox" (Ultrarox?) sound starts to really take root on Quiet Life. Velvet Underground covers are always a gamble, particularly considering how exceptional the original material in question is, but they're able to work in a really nice take on All Tomorrow's Parties here which is one of those rare cases where a cover version is able to capture the stately melancholy of the original, and it's particularly impressive how it perfectly fits the ethereal atmosphere of the rest of the album. Richard Barbieri's synthesiser work coupled with David Sylvian's best Bryan Ferry posing creates some archetypal New Romantic material.
 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.16 | 80 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

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.
 Oil on Canvas  by JAPAN album cover Live, 1983
3.41 | 38 ratings

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Oil on Canvas
Japan Prog Related

Review by UMUR
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars "Oil on Canvas" is a live album release by UK art pop act Japan. The album was released through Virgin Records in June 1983. The original version was released as a double vinyl version. Itīs the highest charting album by the band although it was released several months after the band split-up. "Oil on Canvas" was recorded during Japanīs final UK performances in November 1982 at the six-night sold out stint of concerts at the Hammersmith Odeon. "Oil on Canvas" is not exclusively a live album though as the band have chosen to include some new instrumental studio recordings on the album too.

Itīs not like itīs something you notice though as the live tracks are rather sterile and more or less sound like they were recorded in a studio too. Audience noise is very sparse and low in the mix, which doesnīt exactly enhance the feeling that youīre listening to a live recording. When that is said the live versions of the tracks are different from the original studio versions and "Oil on Canvas" is still a good quality release even though a more "live" sound, to my ears, would have boosted the listening experience. Most tracks are from "Tin Drum (1981)", which is natural enough as it was the latest studio album at the time and they toured in support of that album, when recording "Oil on Canvas", but there are tracks from other albums too.

Not surprisingly the musicianship is on a high level. David Sylvian delivers sensitive and melancholic vocals and the keyboards by Richard Barbieri are adventurous and well played. Itīs the rythm section of bassist Mick Karn and drummer Steve Jansen that take the prize though. Especially Mick Karn plays some incredible bass lines. This might be some sort of artsy pop music upon initial listens, but dig a little deeper and youīll learn how sophisticated it actually is underneath. Session guitarist/keyboardist Masami Tsuchiya helps the soundscape to be more full and layered.

Overall "Oil on Canvas" is an enjoyable release by Japan. In terms of being a vibrant live album it fails a bit, but somehow itīs still an interesting and engaging listen. The detailed and clear sound production might have something to do with it, but the high level musicianship and of course the generally high quality of the compositions are great assets too. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is warranted.

 Tin Drum  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.16 | 76 ratings

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Tin Drum
Japan Prog Related

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Japan's Tin Drum has a fragile, brittle sound to it which demands a few listens before it sinks in. Even when David Sylvian gets into a groove and things seem on the verge of starting to rock, as on Cantonese Boy, the sparse aesthetic keeps things buttoned down and restrained. An acquired taste, but I can't deny that it's an interesting one. At points it teeters on the verge of being culturally appropriative, but the band always find a way to put their own eccentric twist on things. With a China obsession reminiscent of Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), this is one of the weirder and less approachable releases of the synthpop era and I can't say I blame people who find it isn't to their taste.
 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.16 | 80 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by Dobermensch
Prog Reviewer

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.

 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.16 | 80 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by EricBliss

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, expected to maybe like half of it. Not the case.

This is some seriously smooth and classy 80's music, I hate even calling it "pop" because it's not terribly accessable. It did take a few listens before it clicked with me.

The synthesizer work is atmospheric, icy and sounds like it came from another planet, Mr. Barbeiri may not be the most technical player but the atmosphere he creates is otherworldly and intriguing. Steve Jansen is a solid, almost mechanical drummer, and Mick Karn's fretless bass work is easily the most appealing element in this band, with basslines that purr and growl with a presence that really gives things an interesting flavor. Though he never resorts to flash his parts are always unique. Then there's David Sylvians sexy, understated baritone which strongly remind one of Bowie and Bryan Ferry, the epitome of cool with a look to match, singing lyrics that are vague enough that they could be about anything you wanted them to. I've heard few male singers in my life that just melt me but this guy manages to do it, and typcially I prefer much higher ranges.

Things get off to a great start with the title track, a great slab of atmospheric 80's pop with a chorus that won't leave your head anytime soon. There's no way to deny the greatness of the amazing fretless bass work in "Swing." I don't see how any prog fan can't get into the head-spinning timings of "Methods of Dance" which ironically ends up being one of the least danceable items on this record. This track has some of the most inventive use of 4/4 time I've ever heard, and a beautiful chorus iced off with a beautifully haunting female vocal line.

The record also has a ridiculously awesome cover of the old soul tune "Ain't That Pecular" that is so far-removed from the original that I didn't even recognize it until I had heard it many times. Peculiar indeed, a seasickeningly out of tune koto plays a vaguely eastern sounding melody at random times, and even features a meandering recorder part, in unison harmony with itself of course. Take that, Gentle Giant. This one's a riot.

Then there's what may be the runaway track on the album which is the drumless waltz "Nightporter," a dark and devastatingly beautiful track. The simple, yet effective minor-key piano riff gets things off to a great start, and gradually Sylvians vocals, muted synth strings, and a lovely oboe line make appearances, and through its 7 minutes builds itself slowly up and down and gradually reaches a cathartic climax, with Syvian wordlessly singing the melody of the chorus at the end. The album ends on a high note with the uplifting "Taking Islands In Africa."

I've played the album at least 50 times in the last couple months and can wholeheartedly say it's flawless start to finish and I don't say that about many albums at all. I simply cannot tire of listening to it. I dont see how any prog fans who appreciate pop music couldn't enjoy it, after all Japan meant business as evidenced by their stylish appearance and deadly serious tone to the record. Let's not forget Mick Karn's awesome fretless bass playing. Keep an open mind and give it a spin or several. :-D

 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.16 | 80 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by madcaplaughsagain

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, and is actually very good. There you are, how more comprehensive a review do you want? It gets 3 stars rather than 4 or 5, because it is not prog rock! Um well it isn't see. No more than Kanye West is prog rock, but he is very very good, just not prog rock.
Thanks to Raff for the artist addition.

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