Ryuichi Sakamoto ‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ (Wewantsounds)

Welcome reissue for overlooked early release

Sakamoto’s third solo album, originally released in 1981, has been dusted down good and proper by French reissue specialists Wewantsounds. It’s been remastered from the studio tapes of the first Japanese edition, and the exquisite cover photo by Bowie’s favourite snapper, Masayoshi Sukita, has been rescanned from the original negative. There’s also a collection of instrumental mixes, discovered recently in the Sakamoto archive, on a second disc.

‘Hidari Ude No Yume’ is woven from a fascinating convergence of threads. For starters, it’s co-produced by Robin Scott of M. It’s experimental yet eminently easy on the ear, like the Eno-era Cluster material of the 1970s, while at the same time it communicates a specifically Japanese aesthetic, Sakamoto’s rigorous classical training allowing him to insert what sounds like traditional Japanese musical forms into pop music at will. Simultaneously, it’s entirely contemporary, a collection of 1981 electronic music, a testament to the sonic love affair between Sakamoto and David Sylvian, between Yellow Magic Orchestra and the western pop mainstream, and between the international pop intelligentsia and the expanded horizons the synthesiser was allowing them to explore.

The sparse and spacious melancholy of the opener ‘Boku No Kakera’ has fleeting glimpses of Japan’s ‘Ghosts’ in the corner of its eye, as does the ominous ‘Slat Dance’. Then ‘The Garden Of Poppies’, with its gentle but insistent repetition and keening synth strings, is pumped up with muscular taiko drumming.

The tricksy minimalist synth funk of ‘Relâché’ resets the mood to 1981’s urgency and nervous twitch. It comes on like Kraftwerk on an ill-advised pink speed binge with Tina Weymouth on bass and King Crimson’s Adrian Belew on guitar.

Belew does indeed play guitar on this album, most obviously on ‘Tell ‘Em To Me’, which presages the bubbling tension and rhythmic battery of Gabriel’s ‘Shock The Monkey’. The same percussive open house also drives ‘Living In The Dark’, and brings to mind Talking Heads’ smasheroo ‘Remain In Light’ – you can’t help but wonder if the title is a sly wink at Belew’s former employers.

The release was largely overlooked in the UK back in 1981, which makes this reissue all the more essential.

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