Listen to this track by solo Japan founder and pop music envelope pusher David Sylvian. It’s “Let The Happiness In”, a single from his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive. The record scored a top forty showing on the British charts that year.

David Sylvian Secrets of the BeehiveSylvian joined on this track by renowned trumpeter Mark Isham who helps to give the song its Miles Davis-style vibe, and by Sylvian’s long-standing musical cohort by this time, Ryuichi Sakamoto who plays synths, and is responsible for the low-brass arrangement that helps set the scene so well.

This is one of those songs that sets a sombre mood, but is ultimately hopeful. A part of the sombreness may be down to Sylvian’s voice, never an instrument completely without shades of grey. Even the scene is somewhat melancholic; a lone figure by the seaside, and on the cusp of deciding what kind of day it’s going to be.

I think too that this song is ultimately speaking to an important aspect of the human condition, too.

Like the Japan hit single “Ghosts”, this song isn’t hook-oriented. It’s  mostly about atmosphere, and emotional subtext. It’s about struggling with an internal force, maybe depression, that makes the world seem like an agonizing place to be in. This song is a snapshot of a scene where the escape to happiness or complete bondage to darkness is inevitable.

The question is which force will dominate, although the “it’s coming, it’s coming on” is perhaps a good sign for the narrator taking in the details of a wintry seaside scene. It’s ultimately a song of hope, even as it acknowledges the existence of agony.

David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto
David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto; frequent collaborators.

Underpinning all of this is instrumentation and arrangement that steps out of the way of Sylvian’s narrative, but also embellishes it. Isham’s muted trumpet is like the distant call of the gulls found in the lyrics. Sakamoto’s low-brass is reminiscent of ship’s horns, that help to establish the dockside scene.

Each element plays a part. It’s this kind of economy and restraint that Sylvian has always been good at utilizing, even when working in an era when excess and overproduction were traps that many of his peers were falling into.

David Sylvian’s work also shows his understanding of the balance between musical temperatures, matching cold and distant electronic texture with warm and inviting acoustic instrumentation. His feel for subtlety and contrasting texture, plus his skill for choosing personnel who are the best in their respective fields, is very well demonstrated here.

Sometimes Sylvian’s stuff tends to come across as self-consciously arty, and a bit too ethereal for many. But, this is one of the most grounded, down to earth songs in his catalog. This track is all about the human experience as captured in a single moment. It’s about struggle, and the will to keep on living even in the face of pain. It’s about being open to being transformed.

Sylvian would continue to collaborate with Ryuichi Sakamoto, of course. But, other collaborations with Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp, and even his former bandmates in Japan under the name Rain Tree Crow for a one-off album would follow.

He’s an active musician today. Investigate Davidsylvian.com to learn more about him and his work.

Enjoy!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “David Sylvian Sings “Let The Happiness In”

  1. Hi Rob, I enjoyed your post. Let The Happiness In is one of my favourite Sylvian songs and your interpretation of it are in tune with my own, although your understanding of the architecture of the music is far in advance of anything I could put into words. I agree with your comment about him coming across as arty and ethereal for many, which is a shame because I think a lot more people would recognise his genius if they could jettison their ideas about what a song should sound like and give him a chance.

    Are you a fan of Sylvian or just this track?

    I have my own (very) modest blog on Japan and Sylvian (http://simplysylvian.wordpress.com). If you would care to visit and offer your comments on my musings, you are more than welcome.

    I’m now going to explore some more of your posts..

    Michael.

    1. Thanks a bunch for reading, Michael.

      I’d say I was a casual fan of Sylvian’s – I’m kind of a fan of “arty and ethereal” for the record :-). My status as a casual fan is down to the sheer volume of the material he’s put out, including his collaborations with other artists. There’s a lot out there to explore. Thanks for your work on your own blog that goes into more depth than I’m able to do here.

      Cheers!
      Rob.

What are your thoughts, Good People? Tell it to me straight.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s