Given the amount of Japan Best Of compilations which have beenreleased over the years, this has got to be the best so far. Missingout all of the punky glam rock era which constituted the band’s firsttwo, slightly dodgy albums, The Very Best of Japan is just that – allof the hits and album tracks that really stand out – all in one place.Plus it’s got a much better cover than the 1985′s Exorcising Ghostscompilation.
Of all the New Romantics and electropop phenomena of the earlyeighties, Japan remain one of the most quintessentially iconic bands ofthat era. Cooler than Duran Duran, and with David Sylvian’senigmatic charisma, beautifully coiffered white hair, make up andsartorial elegance, Japan were the band that any self-respectingserious New Romantic should have been into.
Quite right too. For what this compilation proves beyond any shadowof a doubt is quite how influential Japan were. Listen to any track onthis Best Of and you will hear the original sound from which scores ofsubsequent bands have echoed. Examples? Well, listen how 1979′s QuietLife has hints of Spandau Ballet‘s To Cut a Long Story Short(released in 1981). And how the electro-funk of the Art of Partiespredated any track on Scritti Politti‘s Cupid and Psyche ’85,not to mention Duran Duran‘s Notorious.
There’s also thatfretless bass sound which was to dominate so much of the eighties(okay, so the influence wasn’t always good…). And of course, there’sSylvian’s voice; an exquisite, other-worldly tone; BryanFerry-esque in delivery and providing much inspiration for SimonLe Bon‘s subsequent career. They were even into the VelvetUnderground before everyone else – evident on the excellent coverof All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Apart from the startling and influential originality however, Japanalso made some excellent singles. Ghosts is as stark and haunting as atop five selling single could ever hope to be; Quiet Life, Life inTokyo and European Son are all corking records worthy of any eightiesdancefloor and even the cover of soul classic I Second That Emotionworks in a way that could never have been predicted on paper. Japanmanaged to be smooth but edgy, arty but commercial and pretentiouswithout being ridiculous.
It’s not necessarily the case that Japan were better than any of thebands they influenced; more that they got there first. Duran Duranproceeded to be far more prolific and thoroughly deserve their success,but the musical debt they owe Japan is evident on this compilation.It’s incredible to think that the tracks on this Best Of were madepretty much over a period of just three years – from 1979 to 1981 – andironic to think that Japan didn’t get their success and fullrecognition until they’d split. And that by the time they did, theirinfluence had helped inspire a whole new movement.
With 7″ versions of many of the singles, this compilation is worth apunt for anyone who’s already got the albums and would like to hear thereleased versions of the singles. For the uninitiated with just a hintof an interest in electro pop it’s a must in order to truly appreciatewhat New Romanticism was really about.