02 May 2009

The Art Of Parties EP by Japan

When the ads for Japan's The Art of Parties EP appeared in the Spring of 1981, every New Romantic worth his or her eyeliner took notice. Gentlemen Take Polaroids, their fourth album, and first for new label Virgin, was, after all, a genre-defining event. Mixing the sophistication of late Roxy Music, with the warm ambiances of Eno's solo work, and the sinewy grooves of Chic, GTP had quickly become a touchstone for all connoisseurs of arty dance music, a resounding rejoinder to any critic who claimed the new music was merely a fashion accessory. On songs like "Methods Of Dance," "Taking Islands In Africa" and the Satie-influenced "Nightporter," it was not a matter of form eclipsing content, but of form becoming content, the one wholly a function of the other. I remember setting a friend's speakers in the window of our college residence rooms after the last of our exams, playing this album over and over for all those assembled on the lawn below. As Sylvian's world weary voice floated over the grassy quad, we all passed into a sun-soaked longueur.

What then would The Art Of Parties bring? Well the cover offered a somewhat more casual-looking David Sylvian, a plaid shirt rolled up at the sleeves and over sized glasses peeking out from his teased blond hair. He appeared to be holding headphones up to his one ear, while dreaming of a Chinese boat making its way across some distant river. Not much in the way of clues, then. And the record? The a side featured the band's most richly sumptuous dance track to date, wildly syncopated rhythm guitars and horns bursting across Steve Jansen's cascading drums, and Sylvian offering one his most irresistible choruses. Add in Mick Karn's increasingly baroque fretless bass, Richard Barberi's shimmering oriental synth textures, and some female backing vocals, let the whole thing run for nearly seven minutes, and you needed the three subdued instrumentals that followed just to gather your senses.

This Canada-only EP has suffered a cruel fate in the digital age. Two of its b sides ("The Experience of Swimming" and "The Width of a Room") were used for bonus tracks to the most recent reissue of Gentlemen Take Polaroids. The lavishly-produced box set version of Tin Drum, meanwhile, included the a side and the remaining b side ("Life Without Buildings") on a separate disc, but left off the other b sides in favour of various remixes from the album. So here is The Art Of Parties EP as it first appeared in the stores, with the original b sides restored to their rightful running order. Can you dance to it? Probably not. Is it art? You bet.

-- Crash the Driver


Japan - The Art of Parties EP

01 The Art of Parties (Extended)
02 The Width of a Room
03 Life Without Buildings
04 The Experience of Swimming

D. Sylvian: Vocals, Guitars, Treated Piano, Synthetic Brass
M. Karn: Fretless Bass, Finger Cymbals
S. Jansen: Drums and Percussion
R. Barberi: Synthesizers

Produced by John Punter and Japan

Canada 12" Virgin [VEP 305] 1981


  1. This post illustrates how we were blessed with special releases in Canada, and how this shaped our personal understanding of the music. This happened time and time again in the post-punk era.

    "The Experience Of Swimming" was the b-side of the "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" single in the UK; "The Width Of A Room" was added to the double single pack. So it makes sense that these would be bonus selections on the Gentlemen Take Polaroids CD. Similarly, "Life Without Buildings" was the original vinyl b-side to "The Art Of Parties" single. Even the UK 12" offers no additional tracks, though the a-side was the extended version. Japan 12" releases were often like that, offering less value than most bands of the day.

    It was only in Canada that these four tracks were packaged together. But I'm with you: this is the way I remember it and this is the way it should be. One of my all-time favourite records.

  2. Good lord I love late era Japan. Thanks so much for this.

  3. Bloody fantastic! I've got a beautiful 7" sleeve package (somewhere) that opens into a cross with photos of the band in the same style as the cover image of Sylvian. The other instrumentals appeared in the UK and on a gate-fold release of Cantonese Boy in '82. I miss all that packaging of the early '80s. Sorely lost art-form!
    Thanks for this. A great share, x

  4. Thanks. Experience of Swimming for the first time in years.

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  6. The EP that got me into Japan back in the day. Big hit at the Love Affair in Vancouver.