Japan: When the chance came to be king

Japan, Tin Drum

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By late 1981 the British band Japan, had evolved from New York Dolls inspired glam rock to being one of the premier bands in Britain. “Tin Drum” was their most complex album and would turn out to be their last (at least under the monicker Japan). Japan reached for a lot on this album and on just about on every one of the songs they succeded. The album focused on their Asian cultural influences, added elegant and complex rythms and instrumentation and continued to present the band in the same stylish way. (Japan would be perhaps most immitated in terms of their style and image with similarly looking bands appearing just in the years after).

The band was praised by the critics and where as early in their career the music press likened them to be more of a glam rock carbon copy (of the Dolls especially), they were now being compared to Bowie and Eno in terms of sophistication. It was also a rare moment where pop stardom and a sound so somber and insular got be a legitimate hits. In fact Japan provided one of the best singles of the 80’s and one of the oddest songs to make a significant dent in the charts, “Ghosts”.

In many ways Japan a postcard from the future in how bands were going to sound and look like. (Looking at you Duran Duran). The bands fan base would not need to mourn for long as they soon had enough of the “New Romantic” bands to shift their attention to. Most of those bands were attrocious, of course. Much of the music made by those bands pushed the direction employed by Japan and Krautrock into the outer limits of commercial pop music. And some of them are making the touring rounds right now.

Japan did split up after the touring that accompanied the album at their height of their successs and creative abilities. They would regroup occasionally under different forms but never under an attempt to sell the Japan brand (which in the years following became somewhat of a myth). Most notably, singer David Sylvian continued in the experimental direction seen on the Tin Drum record and enjoys a large cult following to this day.

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