Obscure Alternatives

Obscure Alternatives

Obscure Alternatives dropped six months after Japan’s 1978 debut and found the David Sylvian–led quintet again dirtying up their love of glam, reggae, and Motown. But this time they also showed interest in Caribbean music, Marxism, and Southeast Asia. They added some low-rent pop (“Sometimes I Feel So Low”) to their grit and funk, as well as a strangely beautiful Roman Polanski nod (with its piano-led ambience and Mick Karn’s trailblazing fretless bass, “The Tenant” is an evolved song that foreshadowed Japan’s—and Sylvian’s—music to come). The band uses funked-up reggae to soundtrack the dull burbs of postwar Germany in “Suburban Berlin” (and caps it with a soaring, cinematic chorus), and on the title song they create an almost eerie kind of dancehall ostinato of synths and guitars. It's great stuff. The album charted in Japan (where the band’s fanbase was swelling) but was wholly misunderstood by rock critics and album buyers. Even the band’s label didn’t get really understand them (an early American promo poster for the band featured a woman’s hand slipping into trousers with the line “Get Into Japan”).

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