Monday, July 14, 2014

Song of the day

"Nostalgia", by David Sylvian.

Thirty years ago I first bought "Brilliant Trees", David Sylvian's first solo album, which, incidentally, was released precisely 30 years and one week ago.

I now know that the feelings "Nostalgia" describes are my default emotional state: an aching nostalgia. Whether this is just a by-product of growing old(er), or whether I have always been predisposed to missing what I no longer have, or even, maybe, whether this very song, which was no doubt still seeping its way inwards five years later, when (a) my father died and (b, and not unrelated) the world I had known fell apart before my grasping hands, I cannot really say. But Sylvian's music has long had a profound effect on me, and I can't really say with any confidence that it (in general, or this song in particular) has had no impact on the type of person I turned out to be.

Which is a heavy burden for a musician to carry, and not necessarily an invited one. Sylvian, as the lead singer and beautiful poster boy of Japan, had felt the many and intense burdens of stardom before he wrote this song, and, in breaking up the band, he intentionally started down the one-way road of dismantling those bonds. This album was the second step along that road. It is clearly the product of a different time: gone are the days when a young but impressive artist, consciously distancing himself from the trappings of fame, could command enough respect, and financial backing, from a major record label to be able to pull together a group of musicians of this calibre: Danny Thompson. Mark Isham. Ryuichi Sakamoto. Jon Hassell. Holger Czukay. Kenny Wheeler. (Also on the album are Sylvian's brother, Steve Jansen, and Richard Barbieri, who were both in Japan. It is interesting, I think, that even though Sylvian might be argued to have torn up their money ticket, he has continued to work with these two, and also with the late Mick Karn, throughout his career; or, perhaps more to the point, it is interesting that they have been prepared to continue to work with him, as if to say, unusually in this business, "we respect your decision and we wish you well".) This was an album that was never going to trouble the charts. (Although its single, "Red Guitar", was something of a hit, and, even if that was largely on account of name recognition, to say that its success was a surprise was, and still is, an understatement.)

Sylvian, on this album and on all of his work since, alone and in collaboration, has demonstrated a serene confidence. If "Brilliant Trees" was a statement of intent, it turns out to have been almost novelistic in the way it acted as a place-holder for all of the different trajectories his solo career would take. You may no longer be taking notice, but he is still writing his own story in his own way. And it is still a cracking good read.