As I was driving home from visiting my Mum (still feels weird that it’s just her, that my Dad isn’t there), Japan’s ‘Quiet Life’ came on in my car.
It was the long, 4.52 version, not the single edit. It’s a perfect pop single. The introductory arpeggiator over the drone note is lovely and spooky. Then the drums come in and they move and groove along with the bass and guitar chord strums.
Yes, the bass. Mick Karn’s fantastically ornate bass playing is the foundation of Japan. They’re all brilliant musicans and Sylvian was (and is) a truly gifted singer but as soon as you hear Karn, sliding all over the shop, then you know Japan is here. I can’t believe it’s already five years since he died.
Maybe I connected with this track tonight driving home because of my Dad’s death in April. I’ve been going back to a lot of music I loved as a kid, trying, I guess, to work out who I am as much as how I am.
Then, in the middle drop down, the bass goes. It’s just drums, synths and Sylvian. The sense of space here is enormous and when the bass comes back in, it’s such a rush, we’ve been in withdrawal.
The song ends as it starts, stark drums and synths with a sense of something fading into the distance. Like when you’re on a train and, for a while, a car matches speed alongside before a turn of the road takes it away from you and you’ll never see it again.
I’m enormously lucky in that I’ve had one hit record. 99.999% of musicians work their entire lives for zero reward or recognition. Then we have the bands that come and go and are then marginalised in the re-written histories of decades. Bands like Japan.
In our social media version of the ‘80s, mostly promoted by people who weren’t born until the ‘90s, I feel that Japan are unjustly forgotten. When I first saw ‘Quiet Life’ on TOTP, it was shocking, I was absolutely riveted to the telly. Obviously, I was only a kid so I was so in awe of these men, so elegant, so effortlessly fucking cool. The opposite of teenage me, so blubberous and unfuckingcool. As I grew older and delved into their catalogue, I found so much more than yet-another throwaway New Romantic band.
If you’re unaware of Japan, please take the time to check out all their albums, to see how they progressed from their punk roots into something wildly experimental, unafraid to lose any fanbase they’d built up in previous incarnations. Yes, that’s hard to believe now when every band’s “new” album is carefully vetted to be not too challenging, not too different to the previous ones. Let’s give the punters more of the same!
Japan didn’t do that. They carved their own giddy, joyous path through pop music, going where they wanted stealing and inventing what they needed as and when they needed it.
A great band, in any era.