Classic albums re-examined: Japan – Obscure Alternatives

japan_obscurealternatives

Japan – Obscure Alternatives

Music On Vinyl (Vinyl)

By Paul Rigby

Fronted by David Sylvian (vocals, guitar) and backed by Mick Karn (bass), Steve Jansen (drums), Rob Dean (guitar) and Richard Barbieri (keyboards), the band’s second album release saw Japan in mid-transformation from their decidedly glam roots of their debut to experiments with post-punk and funk with, significantly, on the track The Tenant, the first taste of the band’s ultimate expression of moody electronica, their true voice in fact.

This reissue is also a poignant one because of the recent death of Mick Karn, known for his iconic and even sensual fretless bass work that helped the band attain their unique style. A Cypriot émigré and founder member of the group, Karn died of cancer at just 52. He created a number of well received solo works as well as working with the likes of Kate Bush and Gary Numan.

The album itself has been reissued by Music On Vinyl as part of a trilogy of Japan reissues that each feature bonus extras. Due to the complicated make-up and sourcing of the extras, they require some degree of explanation for the prospective buyer. The album campaign includes Adolescent Sex, Obscure Alternatives and Quiet Life, the band’s first three albums. Each album offers differing extras in alternative formats that have been issued as limited editions. That is, for the first 1000 copies, each album has been pressed on coloured vinyl with a numbered label.

The reissue for Adolescent Sex includes a free 7” single with the tracks Adolescent Sex re-recorded 7″ version  and State Line, both taken from the Japanese version of the Assemblage compilation.

Quiet Life has been reissued as a triple album pack with a variety of remixes, UK track versions plus a B-side to the Quiet Life single. The extra tracks were mostly sourced from the masters of a Japanese singles compilation but one or two appear via Assemblage and The Very Best Of Japan compilations.

For Obscure Alternatives, the album itself includes a bonus LP stuffed with extras such asIn Vogue ‘ (Live In Tokyo), ‘Deviation’ (Live In Tokyo), ‘Obscure Alternatives’ (Live In Tokyo), ‘Sometimes I Feel So Low’ (Live In Tokyo), ‘I Second That Emotion’  (7″ version), ‘ Life In Tokyo’  (7″ version), European Son (7″ version) and, finally, ‘Life In Tokyo’ (12″ extended version). All of these extra tracks have been taken from the masters for the Japanese version of the Assemblage compilation release. Fans and collectors will be pleased to realise that, apart from the wax singles, none of these extras have ever appeared on vinyl before and, of course, those that did appear on 7” will benefit from the superior sound quality produced by a well mastered 12” album. Even the 12” single track will arguably sound better because of Music On Vinyl’s considered mastering techniques.

So why has the band received all of this attention and why these three albums? “There are more but these are really classic-era Japan,” said Music On Vinyl UK boss, Mike Gething. “The idea was to treat the three as a trilogy and that each would have a limited element to it. As for the band itself? There’s a real interest in 80s-era electronic music at the moment. You’ve got a lot of contemporary pop bands producing that sort of music. With Japan, there’s more of a depth to their output. You’ve got great song writing, an idiosyncratic voice, good albums, great artwork and the historical material available to us too. The whole thing made an attractive package. The good relationship we have with Sony helped too and there’s a very active Internet forum out there.

We’ve also connected with collectors which is how we managed to reproduce and include an original Japanese lyric insert into Quiet Life.”

For the project, the label realised that there was a lot of material available which had been lost for some time, “We were looking at the Japan material and then people started saying that, there’s a host of singles, B-sides and more out there,” said Gething, “Then we started finding people who had copies of that sort of stuff. Their record collections served as a reference for us to ask Sony about grabbing the original masters. Our research meant that we could ask the right questions of Sony.”

Hence, the host of bonus tracks on this Obscure Alternatives release. Incidentally, this expanded LP version extends the array of extra tracks found on the expanded CD version, so there is less of a ‘money for old rope’ effect, purely in content terms as opposed to sound quality terms. For the latter, the LP is significantly superior throughout the entire frequency spectrum.

An under-rated yet eclectic, testing and wholly rewarding album from the band’s catalogue, this edition is the best yet to arrive on the market.

Stand-out track: Love Is Infectious

A real rubber band rhythm announces Japan the ‘art rockers’ with a incongruous, almost jarring beat that clashes with each element of the band to give a strangely attractive whole while Sylvian’s vocal delivery is almost unstable. Your speakers will have to tackle possible sibilance problems so more strident systems need to watch out.

Stand-out track: The Tenant


The door towards the band’s own unique and final style and an instrumental at that. Introduced by future Porcupine Tree member, Richard Barbieri on keyboards, this track offers interesting dynamicism which will put subtle strains upon your hi-fi, trying to catch it out. Only the most nimble will cope.

Obscure Alternatives – A Recorded History

1978  LP  Hansa Records  AHALH 8007

1978  Cassette Hansa Records   ZCAHA 8007

1983 LP/Cassette  EMI  FA 41 3098 4

2004 CD  BMI  82876 56694 2

2006 CD Sony BMG  82876 56694 2

2011 LP  Music On Vinyl MOVLP175

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