David Sylvian first came to prominence as leader of the group Japan. Their early work was often lumped together with that of fellow Brits such as David Bowie, T. Rex, and Roxy Music. In a word, glam. By the time of their 1978 debut Adolescent Sex, Japan had developed a look and sound all their own. I discovered them in 1980, with the Gentlemen Take Polaroids album. Many of us felt that Japan had a lot in common with the Midge Ure-led version of Ultravox at the time, although I am pretty certain the group themselves hated the comparison.
Gentlemen Take Polaroids was Japan’s first album on Virgin Records, where Sylvian remained until the recent formation of his own Samadhisound label. He left Japan for a solo career in 1982, and the new A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012 compiles tracks from the past 30 years. The process of distilling three decades of music into a 31-track, double CD collection must have been a difficult one. A Victim of Stars is presented (almost) chronologically, and displays a continuous and admirable process of growth over the years.
For whatever reason, the set opens with a remix of “Ghosts,” which initially appeared on the Everything And Nothing album from 2000. What follows are three tracks he recorded with Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Bamboo Houses,” “Bamboo Music,” and his first international hit, “Forbidden Colours.” The two worked wonders together, and it is little surprise that “Forbidden Colours” became so popular.
From this point on the songs appear in chronological order, with one exception. What is striking is how strong both the music, and the voice of David Sylvian remain throughout. Besides the three Sakamoto tracks previously mentioned, the first disc contains eight more tunes hailing from the 1980s.
If there is one minor quibble, it would be with the dated synth sounds. But what are you going to do? At the time, Sylvian was definitely cutting-edge, and that is what the cutting-edge sounded like. Even the '80s albums of someone considered as “authentic” as Bruce Springsteen suffer from this situation. To be honest, this is an aspect I kind of enjoy anyway. There is a certain retro, even campy fun in hearing those tinkly synthesizers.