[19] Japan, ‘Quiet Life’

Japan

Quiet Life was the first LP I bought. Sure, there were a couple of cassette albums before that – both by Duran Duran, naturally – but this was my first 12” vinyl breakout, along with Dexys Midnight Runners’ Searching For The Young Soul Rebels in the WH Smith bargain racks. It was March 1983, four years after its release, nicely in keeping with Japan’s own idiosyncratic chronology. You see, I bought it on the strength of their superb cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, which has just come out as a single – also four years after the event. And then there’s this, into the singles chart with a bullet, two years after its first appearance. They can’t have known if they were coming or going. In 1983 they were going.

Straddling Japan’s lurch from glam to Orient-obsessed electro-artpop, ‘Quiet Life’ veers in to the sound of helicopter blades – at least it sounds that way to me, and Junior agrees – and David Sylvian moans about – what? The break-up of the band, years before it happened? The changing state of the nation? His transitional football team? He was to take the quiet life to extremes afterwards, pootling around in the margins, crafting barely penetrable avant-pop, but still he carries on. So Junior identifies the blades, spots the handclaps, and sways to the slides, clips and ticks in the back of the car.

[4] Tricky, ‘Aftermath’

Yes, it was released next year, the following year, that is, 1995, but Maxinquaye was a fantastic album, wasn’t it? Weed-killed, paranoid Tricky and Poltergeist girl-a-like Martina weaving hydroponic magic out of a punk-bred hip-hop, yet still managing to sound pop – and resolutely NOT trip-hop. Way too aggressive for that sort of chilled-out entertainment.

‘Aftermath’ was the initial signal after Tricky had fled the increasingly banal Massive Attack, and it’s a dark delight filled with punchy beats and half-inched Japan lyrics. Plays havoc with the PA, too, if you’re confrontational with the bass.

Not in the best frame of mind to welcome the Brizzle apocalypse, Junior sat sulkily in the naughty seat, having shook the muslin rather too pointedly in her little sister’s direction. By the time we reached the false endings of the track, she was up in her room.

[16] Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, ‘Maid Of Orleans’

The 31st biggest selling single of the year starts off with some industrial noises, still more tuneful than Japan’s squeaks and whirs, before a kind of military waltz tempo fades in. It’s hypnotic and addictive, but still alienating until the melody comes in. These elements build and build, constructing OMD’s best song. It’s effortless.

It’s also their second single about Joan of Arc. What was the fascination? I know Jane Wiedlin looked quite cute in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but this was years earlier. Junior and I have no answers. We prefer to stand rooted to the spot by the metronomic rhythm, musing on OMD’s position in the hierarchy of great synth duos.

6th, we reckon.

[17] Japan, ‘Ghosts’

At the time, I thought this went to Number One. To be honest, until I started taking a keen interest in the chart during the summer of ‘82,I thought everything that appeared on Top Of The Pops was a No.1 single. Happy, uncomplicated days, before my first Guinness Book of British Hit Singles destroyed these reveries. I felt crushed for Sylvian and the lads, and their No.5 hit.

They were probably ecstatic, or as ecstatic as a bunch of in-fighting, studiedly glacial, new romantic poseurs were ever going to get. Maybe they flared a nostril.

‘Ghosts’ is thuddingly pretentious, a glorious mood piece of mannered vocals and blandly eerie effects. It’s certainly no better than ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Mirror Man’, but it thinks it is, and that’s half the battle. Like The Jam, Japan were gone by the end of the year, with a frontman indulging his whimsies. He plods along still, still able to bore you to death at a hundred paces, but at least he does it without Ocean Colour Scene.

I bloody loved Japan, really. Junior tried to look enthused herself, dancing with unsuitable vigour to the first few bars of tuneless electronic dabbling. After a couple of minutes she was thinking of forming the Style Council.

[19] Manic Street Preachers, ‘Stay Beautiful’

Manic Street Preachers

So, they arrived looking like Joe Strummer fronting Japan, lost their spiritual core and eventually waddled off dressed as fat Welshman at Next. A bizarre trajectory that became very uninteresting very quickly. They were never much good. Some diverting early singles, the odd OK track on later albums, not enough to justify the devotion.

Standard gibberish in the lyrics. Junior looked all louche, draped over the side of her chair. A mess of eyeliner and spraypaint sounds like a whale of a time to her.

Ah, I do like this shoddy record. It was the first MSPs song I ever heard and I was wryly surprised that this new, shocking punk thing had basically recorded a Huey Lewis melody.