David Sylvian | A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012 (EMI)

cd david-sylvianThe eight-minute-long “The Banality of Evil” is a pristine example of David Sylvian’s laudable vocal and songwriting capabilities.

I’d recently dug up my old Japan albums when I received notice that the band’s frontman was releasing a compendium. This two-disc set is a must-have for Japan fans, as well as people who appreciate haunting and ethereal sounds.

I’m convinced Sylvian could sing the phone book if he ran out of songwriting ideas, so perfect and unique is his voice. But he hasn’t, and he doesn’t, so get ready to dive into two-and-a-half hours—31 songs—that capture this man’s long and illustrious career.

A Victim of Stars begins with a remix of Japan classic “Ghosts,” sounding just as fresh as it did over 30 (!) years ago: “Just when I think I’m winning/ When I’ve broken every door/ The ghosts of my life/ Blow wilder than before.” “Bamboo House” continues the mood, and could easily have been a song from Sylvian’s long-revered band. The keyboards are light enough so as to keep the sound current on this track—and others throughout—instrumental only for nearly three minutes before Sylvian graces us with his delivery.

There are a number of “upbeat” tracks here—upbeat by Sylvian’s standards, anyway; the album’s still fairly chill and relaxing overall—including “Bamboo Music,” “Red Guitar,” and “Pulling Punches,” another Japan favorite. With the slow and contemplative “Silver Moon” coming midway through the first disc, A Victim of Stars shifts to a more night-music type of feel, perfect for driving after dark or soundtracking your workday.

Disc two kicks off with “Jean the Birdman,” a really nice song with a slightly different sound than its peers. Gentle horns grace the shimmering “I Surrender,” which finds Sylvian singing, “Recording angels and the poets of the night/ Bring back the trophies of the battles that we fight/ Searchlights fill the open skies and I surrender.” Such a gorgeous song; its nine and a half minutes seem to float by.

The same can’t be said for “The Only Daughter” and “Late Night Shopping.” While they are unmistakably Sylvian, they are also a bit too draggy to hold a listener’s interest. Equally slow, “Wonderful World” recaptures the ears with its brush drums and throwback sound.

The first disc’s the catchier of the lot, with disc two more ghostly and quiet. It does, however, contain the most captivating song on Victim, the eight-minute-long “The Banality of Evil,” a pristine example of David Sylvian’s laudable vocal and songwriting capabilities. Horns, gentle guitars, soft drums, and a distinctive, slightly ominous guitar line back his distinctive vocals, here even more whispery than usual. “There was a time/ Not so long ago/ I was master of everything I surveyed/ Yes, there was a time/ We did it my way/ We’ll do things my way.”

“Snow White in Appalachia” is six minutes’ worth of artist indulgence; in other words, it fails to grab me, as does the string-filled “Small Metal Gods.” The lyrically intriguing “Manafon” introduces us to a cast of characters, among them a man whose “wife, she was a painter/ but now she stains the altar black.”

A Victim of Stars is a time commitment, to be sure, but one that’s well worth it for David Sylvian and Japan fans, as well as those who admire music that’s ambient and esoteric. And then there’s the voice that, if you don’t already adore, you’ll soon come to love. B | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Japan, Roxy Music, Radiohead, Brian Eno

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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