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This review is from: The Very Best Of Japan (Audio CD)
At one point in time there were two Japan-compilations - 1981's 'Assemblage' (which gatherered together the years on Ariola-Hansa, cashing in on their success in 1980 & 81 on Virgin) and 1984's 'Exorcising Ghosts'- which was originally a double LP that focused on the Virgin years with a few concessions to before ('Quiet Life', 'A Foreign Place', 'The Other Side of Life')- bizarrely that ignored 'Oil On Canvas.' This unimaginatively titled compilation takes in 15 tracks (their biggest hit 'Ghosts' features twice...)and works as a fairly ideal primer to the band for those who don't want the reissues and might find the full-length 'Exorcising Ghosts' (never on CD) a bit too much. By taking the Ariola-hits (when reissued) 'I Second That Emotion','Quiet Life', 'European Son' & 'Life in Tokyo' a more cohesive selection of Japan's career is there. It could be subtitled 'the most obvious Japan album in the world, ever!'
The key singles are here - 'Cantonese Boy', 'Ghosts', 'The Art of Parties', 'Visions of China' and two firm favourites 'Gentlemen Take Polaroids' and 'Methods of Dance.' This is perfect avant-pop advancing on the climes of Roxy Music, Eno, Bowie & Yellow Magic Orchestra. This compilation offers a few more adventerous moments - the instrumental 'Canton' (which predicts a lot of Sylvian's later world music/intrumental directions) and another 'GTP'-double whammy in the form of 'Nightporter' and 'Taking Islands in Africa.' 'Nightporter', like 'Ghosts', dispenses with the band - Sylvian crooning like a blend of Ferry'n'Walker over a Satie-styled piano (directions confirmed by earlier tracks 'The Tenant' & 'Despair'). 'Taking Islands...' meanwhile is a sublime electronic pop song featuring Sylvian's long-time collaborator Ryuichi Sakamoto - a lush ambient blissed out moment of electronic heaven and a very welcome inclusion!
'Quiet Life' remains a great pop song, though it isn't too far from Roxy Music's 'Angel Eyes' and Bowie's 'Boy's Keep Swinging'!; while Sylvian's collaboration with Giorgio Moroder 'Life in Tokyo' might be electronic bubblegum, but it's very fine at that! 'European Son' hasn't aged that well, reminding me of similarly patchy work by Ultravox and I don't see why the dull cover of the Velvets' 'All Tomorrow's Parties' needed to be included. Think of the songs that could have been picked instead - 'The Other Side of Life', 'Fall In Love with Me', 'Adolescent Sex', 'Despair', '...Rhodesia','Sons of Pioneers' (live), 'Swing', or 'Voices Raised in Welcome, Hands Held in Prayer' - which brings me back to 'Exorcising Ghosts' - why not issue that on cd properly?
The accompanying DVD will probably be of more interest - 'The Very Best of Japan' contains lots of great music, but at the end of the day it's just another Japan-compilation. Part of Sylvian's brilliant career, but as great/greater work remained ahead, another 15 tracks might include 'Forbidden Colours', 'Red Guitar', 'The Ink in the Well', 'Before the Bullfight', 'Buoy', 'Orpheus', 'Every Colour You Are', 'Earthbound','Damage','I Surrender','Some Kind of Fool','The Heart Knows Better','World Citizen','a fire in the forest' & 'a history of holes'...