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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
1 stars O stars as well, really!!

Just as the ugly GTP album had been a catastrophe, Tin Drum could only manage to match the disaster and the group is reduced to a quartet, which is not a problem due to those ugly programmable "everythings" that abound on this crappy excuse of an album. Somehow in that disaster violinist Simon House (ex-High Tide and Hawkwind) got drawn into the disaster and lays some violin strings across the mixing desk, but it was no miracle that he could save the album. In this album, graced with a pseudo Chinese photo (and chairman Mao in an inset), this album might just be Japan's worst. Musically they sound like Roxy meeting Human League and the Duran Duran ugliness or even in some cases, Talking Heads, but never matching the brilliance of TH.

Ugly and disgraceful tracks like Art Of Parties, Talking Drum (and its very slight faking of Arab sonorities) are pure 100% new wave crap that even today still sounds unlistenable. Actually I can only pinpoint the Human League to have such a low level of low musicianship. Just like in Talking Drum, Vision Of China is an almost-fake China inspiration (at least JM Jarre does it credibly), as is Cantonese Boy, and again some tracks (Songs of Pioneer) are insufferably long, overstaying their welcome by a third of the way into their lengths. Only the Ghosts track is a slightly more interesting track, with its lengthy intro, and its semi Roxy Music (mostly vocals) ambiance.

Avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid !!!

Report this review (#146836)
Posted Thursday, October 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
3 stars Japan are a rather peculiar entry on this site. They were a band that are more at home placed in the pantheon of 80's 'New Wave' or 'alternative' genre, rather than a prog-related entry, but their diverse ideas and unusual influences (as their name suggests, Oriental, and sometimes Middle-Eastern) gives them a lot of personality and one could view this as quite an interesting amalgam of ideas. Now, I first heard this album when my sister regularly spun her record of it during the 80's and the main thing that struck me was the fluid Fretless bass playing of Mick Karn and unique synth textures from PORCUPINE TREE's Richard Barbieri (I was quite surprised when I learnt that he joined PT). A lot of the drumming/percussive rhythms on this album remind me of Jaki Liebezeit (from CAN). I listen and appreciate this record for its individual parts, as opposed to the overall 'glammy, hairspray, sophisticated' fad of the time (if you follow my rambling,) in other words, the very 'fashionable' 80's styling.

Rather than explaining the songs themselves, I will try to describe some of the points that may interest the prog listener - opening track, 'The Art of Parties' is pretty average fare for the time, but an Eno-esque, or maybe Adrian Belew flavoured guitar solo (from lead vocalist David Sylvian) is quite an unexpected twist. Title track 'Talking Drum' contains a Middle-Eastern flavoured violin solo from guest Simon House (ex-HAWKWIND). As its name suggests, 'Ghosts' is a haunting, mysterious synth based track with the Bryan Ferry-like crooning of New-Wave vocals taken to extreme - originally on their early releases, Sylvian sang in a more Punkish way, although the music lacked something then. 'Canton' is an Oriental sounding instrumental.

'Still Life in Mobile Homes' and 'Visions of China' are typical examples of New Wave/New Romantic sounding music, but the bass playing is a cut above average. The highlight here, 'Sons Of Pioneers' is a rhythmic tour-de-force driven along nicely by Karn's Fretless bass riffs (including chords) and the CAN-like drumming of Steve Jansen. Barbieri's synth work really generates an other- worldly atmosphere. Back to that New Wave territory again for 'Cantonese Boy' but still demonstrating a very musicianly approach.

I am probably being generous by awarding 3 stars to this album, but 'Tin Drum' is not without its charms, they certainly incorporate some disparate ideas to work perfectly within their 80's framework and may appeal to many.

Report this review (#148258)
Posted Wednesday, October 31, 2007 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This last studio effort from Japan was a dramatic improvement from it's predecessor Gentleman Take Polaroids. More mature soundscapes, the David Sylvian voice more mature. Karn's bass more hypnotic. This would have to be the best album out of the Japan collection.' Ghost' and ' Canton' IMO the best songs on this album. The Eastern Asian influences more apparent on Tin Drum and with a group name like Japan it was hard comprehending them not also having a strong following from this part of the world. Tin Drum and Oil on Canvass, the live album are definitely Japan's finest and although reviews for this band have been poor I would urge listeners to give Tin Drum a try. Good musak!
Report this review (#149777)
Posted Friday, November 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
1 stars There seems to be two trends on PA about "Japan".

The ones who find this band enjoyable and the ones who find them almost unbearable. I definitely belong to the latter category. To have them on PA is not really a plus for the site.

Even if some compared this band with the new wave, I don't agree. The new wave period was a lot of fun, dynamic and unpretentious. Totally the opposite of "Japan" actually.

There will be some attempts to sound more "Oriental" to please their Japanese fans ("Ghosts" and "Canton") because they were rather successful in this country. These are the two "best" songs out of here. Don't expect masterpieces though.

This album will be their last studio one, thank god! I won't need to spend any more time on this ban. So far, I just did my job and depict their work as I feel it. But I can understand that there are other opinions than mine (and hopefully there are, even if not that many for this particular band).

None of their work could please me during this reviewing process made over thirty years after I have discovered the band. To be honest, back in those ancient times, it sounded better to my ears. But my tastes have changed and it was really a painful exercise to review their five studio albums.

The Far Eastern Asia feelings are perpetrated during "Visions Of China" as well as "Cantonese Boy". But most of the album is an ode to synth music. Not my cup of tea any longer even if some other bands of the same period still please me.

One star. As most of the Japan albums. Don't try to find some sort of exitment here. There aren't. It is almost boring all the way through. The worse probably residing in the dull and repetitive Sons Of Pioneers (over seven minutes!).

I can only recommend the same as Hughes : Avoid, avoid, avoid....

Report this review (#157850)
Posted Saturday, January 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Tin Drum is the fifth and last studio album from British act Japan. Japan really impressed me with their previous album from 1980 called Gentlemen Take Polaroids. I loved the mood, the excellent production and of course the great musicianship within the band on that album. It´s not a very progressive or challenging album, I just enjoy the music for what it is. Tin Drum continues the style but with a few changes. Since recording Gentlemen Take Polaroids guitarist Rob Dean has left the band and there are notably less guitar on Tin Drum as a result of that even though David Sylvian plays a few strokes here and there on the album. Another feature that is very evident on Tin Drum is the oriental influence in some of the keyboard melodies. The drumming seems a bit more electronic too. The overall sound takes influences from both new wave and the more decadent seventies artists like David Bowie and Roxie Music, allthough Tin Drum is much more and eighties album than any other album from Japan.

The oriental influence is evident in songs like the instrumental Canton, in the middle section of Still Life in Mobile Homes, Visions of China and in Cantonese Boy. My favorites on the album is the beautiful Ghosts and the intriguing Still Life in Mobile Homes while I find opener The Art of Parties way too repetitive. Sons of Pioneers is also a bit too long, but I really enjoy Mick Karn´s bass playing in that song.

The musicianship is excellent and we´re treated with all sorts of eighties keyboard sounds from Richard Barbieri. I love the paatos filled vocals from David Sylvian but Mick Karn takes the price as usual. His bass lines are so inspiring and challenging. Without him this music wouldn´t have been as good as it is.

The production is great even though I prefer the more calm sound on Gentlemen Take Polaroids.

Tin Drum is a good album but overall I´m not as happy about it as I was about Gentlemen Take Polaroids. The drums have become just a notch to electronic and I can´t say that I enjoy the oriental influence much either. Tin Drum is a 3 star album IMO.

I have now made reviews of all five studio albums by Japan and I will rank them in this order: Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980), Quiet Life (1979), Tin Drum (1981), Obscure Alternatives (1978) and Adolescent Sex (1978). So my advice to anyone interested in learning more about Japan´s music is that you start with Genlemen Take Polaroids. I think it´s the best effort from the band. Make sure you get the re-issue with bonus tracks because they are definitely worth a listen.

Report this review (#187326)
Posted Wednesday, October 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Japan's swan song, Tin Drum, is a much better album than some very negative reviews would lead the listener to believe. I suspect that the band's connection with that somewhat mysterious object called 'New Wave' has a lot to answer for such opinions. As I pointed out in my review of their posthumously released live album, Oil on Canvas, there are still people who believe 'New Wave' and prog to be two mutually exclusive entities. For what it is worth, I believe there is more creativity to be found in many of those much-reviled Eighties bands (often tagged as 'guilty pleasures') than in a good deal of fully-fledged bands with impeccable prog credentials. Being progressive, in my very humble opinion, is not about flinging mellotrons around with wild abandon, or penning 30-minute-long epics on weighty, ultimately boring topics.

Released in 1981, just prior to the band's split, Tin Drum is undeniably Japan's most mature effort, and the one which puts them squarely into progressive rock territory. It is no wonder that its four members went on to pursue musical careers that brought them in much closer contact with prog - David Sylvian is listed here as a solo artist (and his brother, drummer Steve Jansen, followed him), Richard Barbieri joined Porcupine Tree, and Mick Karn worked, among others, with jazz guitarist David Torn and legendary drummer Terry Bozzio. Such developments should be proof enough of the fact that Japan were much more than your average glam-rock Eighties band, in spite of their image - which, by the way, harks back to such rock luminaries as David Bowie and Roxy Music, and not just to the New Romantic movement.

Virtuoso bassist Mick Karn (one of the truly unsung heroes of his instrument) is probably the real star of this album - his thick, pneumatic bass lines all over the place, working in perfect unison with Steve Jansen's agile, inventive drumming. Their finest hour as a rhythm section is the 7-minute-plus Sons of Pioneers, which shows more than a fleeting Krautrock influence. The album's highlight, the haunting, atmospheric Ghosts, is instead dominated by Barbieri's spacey synths and Sylvian's brooding, dramatic vocals. On the other hand, the Oriental influence evident in both the band's name and the album's title shows up most clearly in Visions of China (by far the catchiest song on the album), closing track Cantonese Boy, and the instrumental Canton, even though it can be felt throughout the record, in the lilting, intricate interplay of bass and drums, the use of exotic percussion, and even Sylvian's highly stylised vocals (an acquired taste for sure, but in my view absolutely perfect for the band's sound). The music on this album is further enhanced by the contribution of a prog legend, former High Tide and Hawkwind violinist Simon House.

As a closing comment, I have to say that what really bugs me is how, for some people, even the slightest connection with the likes of punk or New Wave is grounds enough to dismiss a band. As much as many dislike metal, it seems to be more acceptable to consider related to prog a metal band than one associated with those two late Seventies-early Eighties movements - let alone a band like Japan who used suits, make-up and hairspray. Fortunately, there are still those who listen to the MUSIC, and are capable of going beyond tags and image-related matters.

Approach this album with an open mind, and you will be surprised. The beautiful, stylish cover artwork is an added bonus to one of the best discs released in the Eighties, full of outstanding musicianship and intriguing lyrical themes. Four solid stars from this reviewer.

Report this review (#204661)
Posted Saturday, February 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album, along with Talk Talk's THE COLOUR OF SPRING and Talking Head's REMAIN IN LIGHT, really expanded the (synth)-pop idiom in the 1980s and brought global influences into Western popular music. While Talking Heads and Talk Talk's sounds were primarily influenced by African choruses and polyrhythms, Japan sought to use Eastern-tinged instrumentation in their art-glam-synth-pop. These influences can clearly be heard on the songs "Talking Drum" and "Canton." Even Mick Kern's fretless bass lines mimic Japanese and Middle Eastern half-tones! Rhythmically, Steve Jansen's drumming the funk stylings of their contemporaries, but the percussive textures used within the context of these rhythms reflect the sounds of talking drums, darboukas, and Taiko drums as well as typical electronic sounds. Due to the absence of Japan's original guitarist Rob Dean, most of the melody lines are carried by synth-wizard Richard Barbieri (currently of Porcupine Tree). And then there's David Sylvian's vocals. He still has some of that Bowie/Ferry croon in him, but his voice is much more subdued compared to previous performances. In some ways, his voice is less of a standout a part of the music than Mick Kern's bass--though this is NOT a bad thing. TIN DRUM is Japan's best album by a longshot and one of my personal favorite albums of the 1980s, period. Recommended if you like David Bowie, Roxy Music, Talk Talk, or Talking Heads. GRADE: A- (92%)
Report this review (#229981)
Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Tin Drum is an experimental art album that continued Japan's search for progress. If the previous album Gentleman Take Poaroids was a step away from the euro-disco of Quiet Life, this album is a huge jump out of new wave and into Oriental experimentation. The album is often cited as their main achievement and it is certainly an end point in their continuing development as original and boundless musicians.

However, there are few songs here that maintain their impact underneath the overworked arrangements, Ghosts and Canton are more then convincing, but The Art of Parties and Still Life in Mobile Homes are adequate songs that loose much of their power by the sought after Japanese arrangements. Clever as they may be, it's a step too far for me. Too intellectual, not enough gut feeling. A second impression is that the Oriental trick gets old pretty quickly, the continuous slow pace and overused against-beat rhythms make for a monotonous impression

More a matter of taste then a critical assessment, Japan's swan song is a challenging, unconventional and daring album that never made a lasting impression on me. 3 stars

Report this review (#263179)
Posted Thursday, January 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars This was the last studio album from this band. And it's too bad. They were on the verge of developing an interesting sound. As I've stated in other reviews, the main reason for them being interesting is Mick Karn's snaky, weird fretless bass style. Coupled with Steve Jansen's Can-like drumming, they raise the music above the usual British pop of it's time.

The best tracks here are Sons Of Pioneers and Visions Of China, bot featuring some great basswork from the abovementioned Karn. Ghosts is a nice moody track, a preview to some of Sylvian's later work (some with a guy named Fripp).

And easy three star album

Report this review (#269299)
Posted Tuesday, March 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A fascinating album by an enigmatic band. By 1981 they sounded like the missing link between early Roxy Music and the heavily Kraftwerk-influenced Yellow Magic Orchestra. I don't actually know if YMO (actually a Japanese band, led by Ryuichi Sakamato) influenced Japan or if Japan influenced YMO. Most likely it was a case of cross-pollination.

The problem with Japan was that they were such poseurs. Their cover art alone must have put off millions of (not-so sensitive) teenagers. Yes, David Sylvian (not his actual name, of course): if you're going to eat rice in front of a picture of chairman Mao, why do you have to bleach your hair, and why can't you even hold your chopsticks properly?

And then there's the slight problem of Mr Sylvian's lead vocals. If Bryan Ferry's languid barytone discourages you, wait until you hear Sylvian trying to emulate Ferry! It took me a while to get used to TIN DRUM. This was a band that tried oh-so hard to sound diffident and ultra-decadent... One of the tracks is entitled "Cantonese Boy". It gives the impression the singer would like nothing better than sex with a dozen Cantonese boys in one day. You must remember China was still very much in the sway of Maoism when this album was made; economic liberalisation of the country had only just started.

What makes TIN DRUM so enjoyable, then? Well, to start with, there's a handful of truly remarkable tunes. For my money, "Ghosts" is one of the best things Japan recorded: a haunting ballad ten times more memorable than anything the so-called New Romantics (or any other early eighties electro-pop bands) committed to vinyl. The sweetly melancholic "Still Life in Mobile Homes" is unforgettable as well: strongly influenced by late-seventies Bowie albums like "Low" and "Lodger" but a little gentler, less harsh. Just like "Talking Drum" it features a fleeting guest vocal by Sylvian's then girlfriend (or soon-to- be girlfriend) Yuka Fujii. One earlier reviewer has called these guest vocals "Arabic", an obvious mistake: anyone who's familiar with traditional Japanese singing will immediately recognise the Japanese "folk" influence.

Strange to find Japanese guest vocals in an album dealing with Chinese themes, full of little melodies (performed on electric European instruments, of course) which might have been borrowed from one of Madame Mao's post-revolutionary operas. Strange, too, to find all this eclectic stuff on an album named after Günter Grass's best-known novel. But then eclecticism has always been Mr Sylvian's forte (or, if you're a non-believer, his downfall). It is bassist Mick Karn, though, who shines on the album's pičce de résistance: the seven-minute, near-minimalist "Sons of Pioneers", strongly influenced by Roxy Music's "For Your Pleasure" but, well, a true pleasure all the same...

After TIN DRUM, Sylvian would go on to write more emotionally mature music, for masterly albums such as RAIN TREE CROW and BRILLIANT TREES. TIN DRUM can't be called a major masterpiece but it has its moments, and it definitely deserves a place in any broad-minded progger's collection.

Report this review (#414481)
Posted Friday, March 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars I guess I'm on the wrong website to review this album, considering the feeble score that 'Tin Drum' has received in the Archives. Personally, I think it's a classic. The problem is that it's not a prog album in any shape or form. Although, it is probably their most 'concept' album, if such a thing were possible, where there is a continuous feeling of the far east.

The only comparison is 'Yellow Magic Orchestra'. And that's pretty much it.

One of the most inventive and individual albums of the New Wave era of the early 80's. Japan came on in leaps and bounds by the time of 'Tin Drum' - creating an album unlike anything else at that time. Considering the way they sounded three years earlier, I find it incredible how much they developed so rapidly. Japan were far more sophisticated than other bands of the era and somewhat more humourlesss and cold which I guess is one of the reasons that people love taking digs at them.

There's actually quite a lot of 'Yellow Magic Orchestra' lurking about in here. It makes you wonder how much of an influence Sakamoto actually had on the band.

'Tin Drum' has had the misfortune of being discarded by Sylvian (bar Ghosts), and discarded by critics as being pretentious. People seem to love kicking the corpse of this album into oblivion.

One great thing about later Japan was the fact that there's so much 'space' in the recordings, where they weren't afraid to drop bass, guitars and even vocals for certain tracks. Most 80's bands had everyone playing at the same time on all songs.

Among the many highlights, the best is probably 'Sons of Pioneers' where Mick Karn is at the forefront with his brilliant wobbly fretless bass. A very foggy and atmospheric track. Sounding unlike any of their contemporaries, the jerky drumming by Steve Jansen is superb throughout, with many unusual time signatures, timbres and effects.

The cornerstone track 'Canton' takes Sylvian's Eastern obsession to it's furthest point, with wisely absent vocals but an array of percussion and a very oriental melange of sounds.

Mick Karn is the outstanding player on 'Tin Drum', giving it a very original flavour indeed. A musical triumph and in my top three albums of the 80's.

I'm giving it five stars for originality, execution and plain catchy tunes. Wonderful even after 30 years.

Report this review (#417941)
Posted Friday, March 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
2 stars The critics seemed to love this album, I guess because it was unique at the time. I read an interview with Richard Barbieri recently where he said a lot of musicians over the years have told him how much they liked "Tin Drum", including his fellow PORCUPINE TREE band mates Steven Wilson and Gavin Harrison. I took a chance on this because I thought it would be New Wave which was popular when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I liked a lot of what came out of that. It was fun. As Zowie Ziggy notes this is not New Wave.This is like the opposite of it. All four guys in the band should be well known to prog fans as their names are often seen over the years in connection with prog bands. In fact Barbieri,Karn and Jansen all worked with NO-MAN while Sylvian has worked with Fripp and Czukay (CAN) amongst others.

"The Art Of Parties" like most of the songs has all these intricate sounds that come and go as the vocals join in.The guitar is making some noise 1 1/2 minutes in. "Talking Drum" is again filled with intricate sounds and this has an Eastern flavour as well. "Ghosts" was actually released as a single. I guess when the synths comes in it sounds good but it's hard to believe how successful this song was. "Canton" is an instrumental. It builds with a heavy beat and again an Eastern vibe is present. "Still Life In Mobile Homes" is kind of catchy with vocals and lots of intricate sounds. I like the synths but they're brief. "Sons Of Pioneers" has some fairly deep sounds that pulse and beat.Vocals just before 2 minutes.This is all about the prercussion. "Cantonese Boy" has a beat with synths as vocals join in.

A difficult listen to say the least. I just don't like it to be honest.

Report this review (#434489)
Posted Saturday, April 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.
Report this review (#1003780)
Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2013 | Review Permalink

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