“Obscure Alternatives” by Japan (1978)
Release Date: October 1978
Produced by Ray Singer
Genre: New Wave, Post-Punk, Alternative Rock
Label: Hansa Records
Chart Positions: #21 (Japan), #41 (Netherlands)
Singles: “Sometimes I Feel So Low,” “Deviation”
Singles Certifications: N/A
Other Charting Tracks: N/A
Best Tracks: “Sometimes I Feel So Low,” “Obscure Alternatives,” “Suburban Berlin”
Trivia: “Obscure Alternative” is the second album release by Japan and was promoted toward US and European audiences. The album bombed in the US and made a very small dent on Europe where it charted in the Netherlands at #41. However the album found success in Japan having made it to #21 on the Japanese album charts where Japan and lead singer David Sylvian continued success for the next 15 years.
“Obscure Alternatives” is more rock orientated fuzz guitar driven than Japan’s previous album funk tinged “Adolescent Sex”, with the exception of "The Tenant"; the first of Sylvian's Satie inspired piano pieces. Other standout tracks are "Love Is Infectious" with it's punchy guitar, stuttering time signatures and Sylvian's raucous vocal interpretation remains a fan favorite "...Rhodesia", a live favorite which remained in the set until 1981, and "Suburban Berlin", a song about jaded city life in Berlin. "Suburban Berlin" hinted at the group's David Bowie influence as Bowie has recently released his album, "Low" the second release of Bowie's Berlin Trilogy and "The Tenant" was an ambient instrumental suite very similar to the Brian Eno/David Bowie ambient collaborations which appeared on "Heroes" and "Low."
Japan(mostly David Sylvian) considered that this album would have been better for their debut release, as for the first time they were able to assert themselves in the studio. This is evident - many features of the classic Japan sound are here: Richard Barbieri's synths are more experimental, using sound and the stereo sound field to create a mood, Mick Karn begins to use fretless bass, and Sylvian's vocals are getting deeper and less cockney sounding.
"Sometimes I Feel So Low" is easily the most upbeat song on the album. David Sylvian and Rob Dean's brilliant guitar work move the song into new rock territory while the drums and percussion give it a groove and rhythm that is right in line with the upcoming new wave sound which dominated the late 70s and early 80s. The song is deceptively upbeat overshadowing it's downcast and dark lyrics. If there was to be a hit single from this album it is "Sometimes I Feel So Low" unfortunately Japan was not quite yet in the public eye.
"Sometimes I Feel So Low" (1978)
The suggestive lyrics in "Automatic Gun" were somewhat a shocker hinting that one may find solace in an automatic weapon that could kill many in a matter of seconds. Was this rage over a broken love or a broken government? Japan combined elements of punk rock and alt-rock in this tune which worked well to convey their message of rebellion and angst.
"Obscure Alternatives" may not be Japan's finest work though it represents a shift in style that soon evolved into the classic Japan sound of the early 80s. Obscure Alternatives" is more solid than it is filler and it is definitely a good starting point for anyone that wishes to further their knowledge of Japan's music.