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JAPAN

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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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Buy JAPAN Music


Traditional Vocal And Instrumental Music (Japan)Traditional Vocal And Instrumental Music (Japan)
Nonesuch 1990
Audio CD$7.87
$0.01 (used)
Obscure AlternativeObscure Alternative
Import · Limited Edition · Remastered
Bmg Japan 2006
Audio CD$21.89
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JAPAN shows & tickets


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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)

2.02 | 20 ratings
Adolescent Sex
1978
2.26 | 21 ratings
Obscure Alternatives
1978
3.13 | 39 ratings
Quiet Life
1979
2.96 | 60 ratings
Gentlemen Take Polaroids
1980
3.04 | 56 ratings
Tin Drum
1981

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

3.35 | 31 ratings
Oil on Canvas
1983

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

2.35 | 7 ratings
The Very Best Of Japan
2006

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

2.46 | 7 ratings
Assemblage
1981
4.00 | 13 ratings
Exorcising Ghosts
1984
1.73 | 6 ratings
In Vogue
1996
2.26 | 4 ratings
The Very Best of Japan
2006

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

JAPAN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Quiet Life by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.13 | 39 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.

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 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.96 | 60 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
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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.

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 Oil on Canvas  by JAPAN album cover Live, 1983
3.35 | 31 ratings

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Oil on Canvas
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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. It´s the highest charting album by the band although it was released several months after the band split-up. "Oil on Canvas" was recorded during Japan´s 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.

It´s not like it´s 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 doesn´t exactly enhance the feeling that you´re 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. It´s 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 you´ll 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 it´s 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.

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 Tin Drum  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.04 | 56 ratings

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Tin Drum
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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.

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 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.96 | 60 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
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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.

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 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.96 | 60 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

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 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.96 | 60 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.

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 Gentlemen Take Polaroids  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.96 | 60 ratings

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Gentlemen Take Polaroids
Japan Prog Related

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 Tin Drum  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.04 | 56 ratings

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Tin Drum
Japan Prog Related

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 Tin Drum  by JAPAN album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.04 | 56 ratings

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Tin Drum
Japan Prog Related

Review by Dobermensch

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.

Despite this not being Prog I'm giving it five stars for originality, execution and plain catchy tunes. Wonderful even after 30 years.

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