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Japan - Tin Drum  CD (album) cover




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3.23 | 83 ratings

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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.

Raff | 4/5 |


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