Before Lewisham’s Batt brothers reinvented themselves as archly cosmetic Occidentals with a fascination for the Orient, they affected New York Dolls-style sleaze in slummy, vampish make-up and lizard rocker trews.
Japan’s early material is fronted by a slurry David Sylvian (a former Batt) and backed by a pointy-nosed guitarist Rob Dean, who left when the Roxy Music-isms took over.
Mick Karn’s bass lines are more funky than bendy on The Unconventional, Suburban Berlin and Adolescent Sex, songs that made Sylvian squirm the moment he discovered Scott Walker.
Japan’s second phase sits uncomfortably alongside these early tracks, with the sonorously warbled European Son, Quiet Life and Alien eclipsing mannered cover versions of I Second That Emotion and All Tomorrow’s Parties.
With a pair of overlooked recordings under their belt, Japan were eager for attention by the time of Quiet Life (1979).
Skirting on the edge of New Romanticism but too glam rock for actual scene membership, Japan gamely slogged against the prevailing musical tide with a stodgy and unattractive mish-mash of hijacked funk rhythms, second generation glam and quasi-metal guitar riffs.
The name was not incidental, as they figured they could bring an Eastern poise into pop. Cue: song titles, Canton, Cantonese Boy, Visions Of China . . .
The danger was that the conceit could seem all too contrived, or ersatz, and was not helped by the mannered vocals of songwriter David Sylvian.
At other times, though, as on Ghosts, their self-importance almost made sense through the simple strategy of a good song, well performed.
Japan broke up in 1983 after releasing a double live album recorded on their last tour – Oil On Canvas.
David Sylvian (David Batt)
Vocals, guitar, keyboards
Mick Karn (Anthony Michaelides)
Bass, saxophone, clarinet, flute
Steve Jansen (Steve Batt)