Release Date: Apr 3, 2012
Record label: EMI
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Art Rock, Experimental Ambient
David Sylvian's voice bears such a calmly forceful cadence, full of carefully enunciated words that trail off into a pristine nasal murmur, that he can dart between genres and surface with music positioned resolutely in his own sound world. The former Japan singer has spent a great deal of time reflecting on his solo output in recent times. In 2010 he released a retrospective of his non-album collaborative work, Sleepwalkers.
For those unfamiliar with Japan singer David Sylvian’s solo work, a compilation such as A Victim of Stars is like a glorious brush on the cheek by a silk glove. Although songs included here are oftentimes more atmospheric than lush, the loving way in which each piece has been crafted and the overall ambience provided makes for a paradoxically subtle and complex experience. Due to the compilation’s restraint from instant gratification and its seamless linking of major label work with self-released material—Sylvian was a Virgin Records artist before releasing material on his SamadhiSound label—it also serves as a welcome product of another time.
A visionary musician, revealed under the make-up…When David Sylvian first became a presence on the pop scene on the cusp of the ’80s, it was obvious that, like many of that decade’s performers, he was hugely influenced, to the point of being besotted, by Roxy Music. Not only did he and his fellow travellers in the band Japan brandish the outlandish and flamboyant fashions of glam-rock, but Sylvian’s voice was clearly modelled on Bryan Ferry’s tremulous croon. The combination of that erogenous baritone and his pop-star looks seemed to point inevitably to a mainstream pop position alongside the Duran Durans and Culture Clubs when, in 1982, Japan found themselves with a bona fide hit single in the shape of the winsome “Ghosts”, from the previous year’s Tin Drum album.
It's very easy to look at David Sylvian's career in a completely linear way, to think that he simply went from new romantic pop star to avant-pop savant to experimental music artist in distinct stages. But, despite being set out in very chronological order, A Victim Of Stars puts the lie to that notion most emphatically. Consider 'Ghosts', the only track by Sylvian's seminal synth-pop band Japan on this compilation, and the first on the track list.
A timely reminder that the mainstream's been able to accommodate many kinds of magic. Iain Moffatt 2012 Scott Walker and Mike Patton aside, was there ever a Top of the Pops regular as thrillingly un-pop as David Sylvian? Even the fact he ended up there seems almost accidental; after all, when Japan emerged at the height of punk, they were all high art and preposterous glamour – a kind of Proxy Music, if you will, with the erstwhile Mr Batt as their Ferry-cum-Bowie – and if New Romantic hadn't happened they'd've been little more than a cultish footnote. Not, mind you, that that would've stopped Sylvian ploughing the furrow spotlit by this retrospective, since him claiming to be captain commerciality would've been spurious at best.