On the cover of this double CD compendium, we see David Sylvian appearing troubled and distraught, like a man caught in a moment of profound frustration, foundering upon his own search for philosophical insight. It’s a romantic image to be sure, and a more than appropriate one for an artist whose quest for beauty has never ceased. Sylvian’s voice has a calm and peaceful timbre to it, to the extent that melancholy becomes a byword for pleasure.
We begin with a re-recorded version of “Ghosts” by his previous band Japan, a song where Sylvian delicately exorcises his demons like a manic depressive Dean Martin. His collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto on “Bamboo Houses” and Bamboo Music” are intriguingly intelligent experiments which might have seemed cutting edge in the early ‘80s, but nowadays sound a little dated. Not so “Forbidden Colours”, with it’s almost Sartre influenced introduction and dramatically subtle arrangement throughout. From the deceptively complex “Red Guitar” to “The Ink in the Well”, Sylvian’s inspiration is obviously deep, not to mention a little more soul searching than anything Simon Le Bon could have come up with I’m sure.
Sylvian flirts between David Bowie and Brian Ferry on a few tracks, only without the commercial trappings. Manic depressives may rejoice in “Let the Happiness In” and “Orpheus” from his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive, though might not be so enamoured with his more avant-garde expressions such as “Waterfront” and “Pop Song”. However listening to “Blackwater” is like watching a storm moving out over the sea while drinking a glass of ancient wine. Relaxing and reflective all at the same time.
Side two is another different journey entirely, spanning from the interestingly poppy “Jean the Birdman” to the smooth and velvety “Alphabet Angel” and “Surrender”, from Dead Bees on a Cake. Sylvian never fails to deliver. There can be no doubt that these songs have a haunted aspect to them, as if Sylvian was seeking to unveil his very soul in every song. Whether it’s the despondent electronic ballet of “Fire in the Forest”, the troubled yet ironically titled “Wonderful World”, or “Darkest Birds”, pretty much everything you’re going to get is depressing.
David Sylvian is without a doubt the unofficial poet laureate of pop, someone whose seemingly manic-depressive tendencies can not only cool the heart yet sooth the mind.
To compress such an impressive body of work into two discs, even CDs, would merely be the tip of iceberg. For Sylvian should be appreciated in full, in order to experience the brilliance of his expression and vision, even if he thinks he has one. There is an idea that only poets have the right to comment on other poets, which if true, should narrow down the crowd quite considerably. Not that I’m sure Sylvian would be bothered either way. My feeling is that he is too busy doing his own thing than worry about what I might have to say. But as the black bird sings, what wondrous notes, Oh what wondrous notes.
A Victim of Stars is as fine an introduction to an artist who is as mercurial as he is mysterious. He is the Shelley of Pop, an effete and fragile figure who prefers his own company than the Madding Crowd. I for one am glad that he exists.