Book Review: Cries And Whispers 1983-1991 (Sylvian, Karn, Jansen, Barbieri) by Anthony Reynolds

Which ‘rock’ artists are the most likely to be subjects of not one but a series of biographies? The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan?

Japan are possibly unlikely recipients of such a legacy, but Anthony Reynolds’ superb new ‘Cries And Whispers’ – carrying on from where ‘A Foreign Place’ left off – holds the attention with ease.

His luxuriously-appointed new book takes an indepth look at all the protagonists’ (Sylvian, Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri) careers between 1983 and 1991, a mouth-watering prospect when you realise how scant the serious coverage of these groundbreaking musicians really is, Martin Power’s half-decent 1998 biography of Sylvian aside.

Here you get rigorous research, rare photos and unexpectedly candid interviews from producers, engineers, designers, record company execs, hangers-on and of course the musicians themselves.

There are fascinating glimpses under the ’80s pop bonnet, with details of record company correspondence, press releases, tour itineraries/diaries and testimonies from session players.

There’s the odd unqualified muso revelation (did Mark King really get asked to play bass on ‘Pulling Punches’?!) and tasty gossip a-plenty, hardly surprising when you consider that the book covers the troubled Rain Tree Crow project.

In the main, Reynolds wisely keeps musical analysis to a minimum, letting the facts and musicians speak for themselves, and he also – admirably – is as interested in the murkier corners of Sylvian’s ’80s work (the one-off ‘Pop Song’ single, his involvement with Propaganda’s A Secret Wish album) as he is with the better-known stuff.

Indeed, all the chapters on Sylvian’s solo work are terrific, particularly the lengthy portrait of his punishing ‘In Praise Of Shamans’ 1988 world tour. The Rain Tree Crow section is also gripping.

There are minor gripes here and there: some quotes from relatively peripheral figures – clearly cut and pasted from email correspondence – could do with trimming, and does anyone really want such a lengthy analysis of Dalis Car or The Dolphin Brothers? But even these longeurs have their fascinating moments.

This writer almost read ‘Cries And Whispers’ in one sitting, passing it from desk to sofa to dinner table to bath to bed, and you may well do the same. It’s another fine achievement by Reynolds and another classic music book to boot. We eagerly await the next instalment.

‘Cries And Whispers’ is published by Burning Shed.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Cries And Whispers 1983-1991 (Sylvian, Karn, Jansen, Barbieri) by Anthony Reynolds

  1. I for one would love a lengthy analysis of The Dolphin Brothers, as I thought the “Catch The Fall” album was rather wonderful at the time of release, and still do. I heard it on community radio back in the day, I think I had an awareness of Japan but it probably took me a while to realise that it wasn’t actually David Sylvian singing on the album, but his brother – the similarity is uncanny (part of me wishes it was actually a prank where it really WAS David singing all along). I hope it eventually gets the CD reissue it deserves.

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      • Thanks – Cries & Whispers is ordered and on its way from Burning Shed as I write. A Foreign Place looked so great when it arrived, it didn’t take much prompting to order Cries & Whispers as well. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, well, Cries & Whispers turned up impossibly quickly. The biggest surprise? Not realising till now that Japan’s guitarist Rob Dean was actually the guitarist on Sinead O’Connor’s “The Lion And The Cobra”, one of my favourite Eighties albums. How on earth did I not realise till now!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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