Japan's Gentlemen Take Polaroids" has lasted so well chiefly because it's not generic. While labels such as synth-pop, new wave or new-romantic might be bandied around here, they drew on their combined musicianship here to create their own brand of elegant pop. David Sylvian was beginning to evolve his own vocal style, relaxing away from just imitating Bryan Ferry. Their sophisticated instrumental blend is fused from Richard Barbieri's angular, Oriental-toned electronics, Mick Karn's chattering bass and Steve Jansen's percussion, mixed with relaxed ska-style horns.
The casual pop of the title track is so melodic and exquisitely-arranged that it doesn't drag over seven minutes. It's almost matched by "Methods of Dance", driven by soaring sax lines. But the most lingering song here is "Nightporter", a romantic but eerie and chilling ballad, with a piano figure borrowed from Erik Satie. More overlooked but quite powerful is the instrumental "Burning Bridges", with stark booming synths and keening sax, like something from Bowie's "Low" or "Heroes". The only weaker moments are where the songs rely on mere jerky-quirkiness, as on the cover "Ain't That Peculiar".
January 23, 2005