Album Reviews

Japan – Quiet Life (Deluxe Edition)

(BMG) UK release date: 5 March 2021


Japan - Quiet Life When David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean began production on Quiet Life in the middle of a hot and sticky 1979 summer, none of them could have known how incredible the finished product would be. Up until that point, Japan had been a very, very good post-punk outfit inspired in equal measure by the emergence of new wave, and the recently-deceased glam rock of their youth. With Quiet Life, they became something else entirely – something new, and with their new sound and their stunning looks, the boys set about laying the foundations for the next decade of elegantly coiffed, sharply dressed androgynes to emerge and thrive. 

Over the course of their five official studio albums (not counting the Rain Tree Crow reunion record), Japan got progressively stronger, growing exponentially into their final implosion with their 1981 magnum opus Tin Drum. Quiet Life sits squarely in the middle of that trajectory, their third album, and first to truly sound like themselves. When reflecting on their career, singer and songwriter David Sylvian said that he thinks of their second album as their true debut, but in truth it is with Quiet Life that we begin to hear Japan as they were always meant to be. 

From the outset, it’s clear that the band have taken incredible leaps from their previous album. The title track (a minor hit in the UK), has so much going on that it’s hard to focus on one strand of the music – from Sylvian’s post-Bryan Ferry drawl to Mick Karn’s serpentine bass – and it’s an almost complete prototype for the burgeoning New Romantic sound. The next tune, Fall In Love With Me, is a far more sinister and oppressive take on the theme than Iggy Pop‘s song of the same name from two years prior. It’s sonically dense, and Sylvian’s sneering vocals seem to hiss out of the speakers, sounding just as aggressive every time you hear it. 

Despair, which runs just under six minutes, is contemplative and brooding – a direct descendant of the tracks found on the second side of David Bowie‘s Low album, made up of fog, concrete and steel, and the mournful saxophone is one of the most haunting, affecting things about the entire album. In Vogue continues with the stylish darkness, but leans heavily on the Roxy Music influence, conjuring images of darkened catwalks and shadowy stage sets. 

Halloween, which splits the difference between Iggy Pop’s streetwise strut-punk and some of the more worldly-minded post punk acts, puts Japan’s influence on bands like Duran Duran into sharp focus (you could genuinely convince someone who hadn’t heard of Japan that Halloween was an earlier DD track). Despite being a fan favourite, the weakest track on the entire album is a misfiring cover of The Velvet Underground‘s All Tomorrow’s Parties, which takes the stark, deep black tones of the original and tarts them up with needless Robert Fripp-ian guitars and Mick Karn’s wobbling bass. 

They get back on track with the final two tunes – the silky, slinky Alien and the luxuriously languid The Other Side of Life. The former showcases their ability to turn in an earworm from the most unlikely of sources, and the latter is a lap-of-honour, skygazing take on the kind of stately Pink Floyd head-nodder that had been around for the better part of the ’70s. 

Japan - Quiet Life (Deluxe Edition)

Japan – Quiet Life (Deluxe Edition)

Rereleased this year in three separate editions (1CD, half-speed remastered vinyl, and 1LP + 3CD Deluxe Edition), Quiet Life is a snapshot of one of the most potent and powerful bands of the era as they began to fully explore their incredible powers. When you consider that the band were only in their early 20s when they were writing this stuff, the true nature of their talent becomes apparent, as does the fact that if they’d stayed together throughout the ’80s, they would surely have been one of the most well-known (and highest-selling) bands of all time. 

A note on the ‘deluxe’ nature of the package – early reports are that the box itself is a handsome and attractive proposition, and having seen the digital version of the book, I’m inclined to believe them. Much of the music on the second CD (alternative takes and sonic paraphernalia) is superb, but the live disc, culled from a performance at Budokan in 1980, is lacking. The sound quality isn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the discs from, say, Iggy Pop’s Bowie Years box, but it’s still not an ideal accompaniment to a studio album that sounds so polished and refined. A misstep perhaps, but as the box set is retailing at just over £40, it’s more than worth the money. 

Japan would go on to at least one better album than Quiet Life, but they would never again capture the same kind of nervous youthful energy they display here. An essential album from an essential band.

Japan’s Quiet Life is available now through BMG. More at Japanband.lnk.to/QuietLifePR


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