In 1974’s embryonic form, Japan were a glam rock band. They had the peroxide and the platforms and the plastered-on foundation to prove it.
Vocalist David Batt, forever with an ear on the pulse and an eye on the future twisted his name into an approximation of the New York Doll’s Sylvain Sylvain. His guitar/keyboard playing brother Steve became Jansen in dyslexic homage to the Doll’s vocalist David Johansen. And to go with the name change, the music underwent an identity change of its own too. Out went the chipped polish sneer – check out their Adolsescent Sex single and album for proof – and in came a decadent and louche new sound, European in outlook and ice-cool in ethos. Dropping glam rock and the tail end of the second wave of punk like the lumpen crock of cack it had become, Japan instead took the stylings of Roxy Music and David Bowie and created a run of arty, obtuse and fantatstic tunes.
Life In Tokyo was the big one.
Japan – Life In Tokyo (12″ version)
With a golden touch production courtesy of Giorgio Moroder, Life In Tokyo is the sound of cruising Jetstreams and elongated, curved aerodynamics, the decadent sound of a high society 80s that was still a year away, with helicoptering synth lines and slink-funk serpentine basslines wandering between the steady 120bpm disco beat with all the sashaying grace of a Bond girl in a Monaco casino.
Moroder got the band to play live in the studio, deconstructed it and then added his magic touch. Chrome and mirrored synth washes, spacey and linear, horizontal and widescreen, percussive pulsing with blasts of Mini Moog… a production as razor sharp as the cheekbones and jawlines on its principal players, Life In Tokyo is something of a masterpiece.
Sylvian’s vocals, yawning yet urgent, are the finishing touch, pitched somewhere between Roxy’s vocalist and the Thin White Duke but instantly recognisable as Sylvian in his own right. Hero worship, yet true to himself.
He might’ve had the hair and complexion that Lady Di would, er, die for, but crucially his style transferred to record. He sounds as he looks. As it spins, you can almost picture him in baggy, high-waisted Bowie breeks, a wee thin microphone held at 270 degrees and a flash of blue eye shadow beneath a blow-dried fringe of Pearl Platinum.
It’s a great record.
That 12″ version above goes on for maybe a wee bit too long, but it’s noticeable for the background noises halfway through that you’ll maybe only spot after 2 or 3 closely-monitored plays.
It isn’t, as Moroder would want you to believe, the bleeding of the track’s reference pulse, and isn’t actually the sound of David Sylvian applying another layer of Elnett either (that’s the hi-hat you’re mishearing). It is in fact Nick Rhodes and the rest of Duran Duran frantically firing up the synthesizers and cribbing notes on how to have a glamorous-sounding hit single. Felt fedoras off to them too, for they made a good fist of it, and the rest. You knew that already though.