Listen to this track, a mesmorizingly haunting cut from Britain’s Japan, a band formed in the mid-70s, and flourishing in the early 80s. The song is ‘Ghosts’, an left-of-centre hit featured on the band’s 1981 album Tin Drum, a record that represents the height of their creativity, and effectively the end of their partnership under the Japan name.
Japan was one of the bands inspired by David Bowie, Marc Bolan, New York Dolls, and of course, Roxy Music to whom this band was compared probably because of singer David Sylvian’s voice which is closely associated with that of Roxy singer Bryan Ferry. Yet, by the 1980s, they had branched out along stylistic lines of their own, embracing minimalism, world music, and the contrast between electronics and exotic instruments. At worst, they were described as a sort of cerebral Duran Duran, seeing as both bands were of the ilk that was called the ‘New Romantics’.
Yet, in some ways they paved the way for a band like Talk Talk, who also started off in a traditional rock pop vein only to throw it over for a warmer, and more spacious sound, not afraid of silence, and relying on subtlety more so than on traditional pop hooks. This song, ‘Ghosts’ encapsulates this approach nicely, juxtaposing electronic sounds against the organic touches of marimba, and with a sort of Chinese feel in the textures underneath Sylvian’s plaintive lead vocal.
Atmosphere is the song’s most powerful element, and the arrangement the band has created is structured so as not to get in the way. This is notable, seeing as it was created and released in a decade in which production on many contemporary albums is very, very frequently getting in the way of the songs. This band knew the value of space, and this song, actually a top 5 single, proves the rule.
Despite the artistic bravery of this single, their biggest hit chartwise, the band suffered internal tensions between principles David Syvian and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Mick Karn. The group broke up months after the song scored success. The band would reconvene later in the decade under the name Rain Tree Crow, something of a short-lived project. Sylvian of course would launch a solo career by the mid 80s and into this present decade, collaborating at times with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Marc Ribot, Bill Frissell, and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, among others.
For more information about Japan, check out this Japan fan page.
And for more information about David Sylvian, investigate davidsylvian.com