As every discerning music fan is acutely aware, the ultimate irony of musical biographies is that whilst you will find the relevant section of the chain bookstores bribing with bands following throw away pop templates and seeking to appeal to the mainstream’s creatively low benchmarks, those who actually leave a more profound mark on the course of musical history are less well represented. The fact that it wasn’t until Anthony Reynolds 2015 book A Foreign Place that the first serious book about iconic British new wave innovators Japan saw the light of day, underlines the point perfectly.
And if that book was well-received amongst fans and critics alike, the follow-up, Cries and Whispers, is already following in its footsteps. And whereas the subject of the first book was the band’s career as a collective, this time out Reynolds follows the more fractured path of what the individual members did following the band’s split in December 1982 and for almost the next ten years.
It follows the post-Japan careers of David Sylvian, Richard Barbieri, Rob Dean, Steve Jansen and Mick Karn, taking in Sylvian’s work for his first three solo albums, The Dolphin Brothers, Dali’s Car with Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy, the brilliant but ill-feted album they released under the name Rain Tree Crow, and more besides. The book also explores David Sylvian’s collaborations with Holger Czukay and Ryuichi Sakamoto, the latter of which resulted in their epic ‘Forbidden Colours’, which featured on the soundtrack album of the hit film ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’. And as expected there is no shortage of contributions from the likes of Johnny Marr, Ivo-Watts Russell and Simon Raymonde to Bill Bruford, Thomas Dolby and the late Colin Vernecombe.
“Is it shameful to be 40 something and still have a ‘favourite band’? If so, colour me shamed. Japan are my favourite band and as a fan I wanted to write and publish books on them that would enrapture and delight the fan in me. I hope I’ve done so, matching Style with content and mystery with beauty,” says the author. And I know just what he means. We all have favourite bands as youngsters and these probably change with fad and fashion but after a while you realise that as you move through the subsequent decades of life that there are one or two bands that are to important to stop listening to, to stop thinking about and that, in this case, compel you to write the book that you the fan would lap up. And in that respect he does a perfect job, capturing a sense of the bands own ethos and originality along the way.
In many ways, Cries and Whispers is even more fascinating than A Foreign Place, for whilst the former follows the singular path of a group of people forging a career as a unit, this time out the disparate paths weave around and about so many other better known artists, industry stalwarts and producers and in and out of more familiar stories, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern making their way through the back waters of Hamlet…only it is Britain’s underground music scene of the 80’s rather than a fictional medieval Elsinore.
And no matter how you approach this book, as a Japan devotee, someone interested in the more influential if less well-known music-makers and sonic definers of the age or just someone who likes to read music biographies, you will find that Cries and Whispers is nothing short of a triumph.