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Japan - Gentlemen Take Polaroids CD (album) cover




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3.17 | 96 ratings

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2 stars In the mid 1980s, well before the proliferation of 5 star lay ratings for not yet available recordings, DAVID SYLVIAN garnered press accolades for his silky voice and was even acknowledged by somebody or other as the most "beautiful" man in the world. His solo career launched soon after the demise of JAPAN when they were at their commercial peak, and his first few releases don't seem to polarize listeners nearly as much as those of his original band. Ambitious and vulnerable, albums like "Brilliant Trees" and "Secrets of the Beehive" have influenced many a prog artist. But here for the first time I'm casting myself back to the only JAPAN album I've heard, one I remember for one lovely haunting ballad and a plethora of high gloss dross. It seems my memory was largely correct.

If this was food, it would be the sort of genetically modified organism that your local coop would only carry under threat of irreversible scandal. Drum machines, non existent melodies, lethargic vocals and generally over long numbers only exacerbate the drudgery. Taking cues from the the most apathetic aspects of BRIAN FERRY's work (title track), and BRIAN ENO ("Burning Bridges"), and peddling influence to nascent artists like SIMPLE MINDS ("Methods of Dance") and ULTRAVOX, the only aspect that really works here is MICK KARN's up front bass, but it can't save the mundane compositions. Part of the problem is the way Sylvian himself is utilized. If Jim Kerr of SIMPLE MINDS had been thrust into "Methods of Dance", with his spasmodic and domineering style, he could have improved it dramatically, but Sylvian just bobs in and out on like he is reading the lyrics off a cigarette box, lyrics that were written moments earlier.

Luckily "Nightporter" signals what the band could achieve when going organic. With mesmerizing piano and synth forming the unbroken arrangement of a morose ballad, it also snapshots Sylvian from his better side. While it could pass for one of his solo tracks, he actually didn't pursue his goals quite as directly when he broke free, so this is a bit of a rarity, and I wonder why. A few of the bonus tracks are better than the originals, such as the eerie instrumental "The Width of a Room"

While much of the popular music from the 1980s hasn't aged gracefully, some bands elicit a nostalgic response which can help us get over some of the truly dreadful constructs. Sadly, most of "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" plays like that snapshot that inexplicably made the cut into the family photo album and has been questioned ever since.

kenethlevine | 2/5 |


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