In 2003 Japan and David Sylvian’s catalogue was given a significant makeover by Virgin EMI. Both Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum recently got the half speed master treatment and next February on what will be Sylvian’s 61st year, his golden era from 1984’s Brilliant Trees to 1987’s Secrets of the Beehive are being revised on vinyl with new black and white artwork. All of these have something the original issues (save for Brilliant Trees) do not – inner bags!
The original Dead Bees artwork top left, the black design for the vinyl issue top right, middle right, original artwork reduced to inner sleeve design and finally the white sleeve reissue for record store day 2018.
This began in earnest during this year with black and white vinyl editions of his fourth solo release Dead Bees on a Cake with differing covers and inner artwork, all of which must be keeping designer Chris Bigg rather busy. ‘Bees’ however came with additional tracks while the upcoming issues have only visual changes.
Their secondary purpose is for the collector and fanbase whom Sylvian continues to challenge not just in his music but by design changes, especially with ‘Dead Bees’ above which never saw a vinyl issue back in 1999 and Gone to Earth (see below). In addition the two albums with the late Holger Czukay have also been repackaged by Bigg again in monochrome. It seems Sylvian is putting these forward as some kind of archival statement. Memoirs from a life in music, though in typical fashion, he’s also stated he isn’t nostalgic.
The new design approach, according to Sylvian’s expansive post on social media, was prompted by ‘loss’ of the original imagery, hence the need to create something contemporary yet true to the time. I’d say if he’s changing some of the artwork why not change all of them and keep the same type as on the new Brilliant Trees below. That’s really my only problem – a lack of continuity. Had they been all portraits or all abstracts then it would have been a cohesive statement. As it is it just seems muddled and in some cases amateur, though like most I’ve yet to see the inner sleeves. Whether that sways my opinion is yet to be seen.
The changing faces of Brilliant Trees, top left the original ‘yellow’ cover from 1984, top right an American issue with red type featuring both the album and Words with the Shaman EP from 1994, middle right the (imo) hideous 2003 issue and above the new 2019 issue with the new type which is (again mo) more elegant in its approach.
These new designs vary from the familiar to the new. Most are previously seen photos with added typography. Some are more successful than others. Brilliant Trees conserves its favoured crop-shot cover with the addition of embellished type (much better than the bloody awful hotchpotch on the 2003 CD reissue). Alchemy (released only on cassette in 1985) sees the biggest change while Gone to Earth remains a misadventure by design. Sylvian in a car!? While I have never been a huge fan of Russell Mills original artwork (and Sylvian himself says he is not ‘in awe’ of it), it is nonetheless indicative of its contents. ‘Beehive’ meanwhile retains its washed up floatsem image but why move the type!? Actually as already suggested why not just change the whole package?
Sophomore album Gone to Earth was originally issued in 1986 (left), top right is the revised inner artwork to the 2003 cd reissue and bottom, that car shot, hmmm….
Rain Tree Crow, astonishingly approaching 30 years of age, follows in March. As per the Facebook post by Sylvian on the reissues and their artwork the material with Robert Fripp is owned by Fripp so a new edition of The First Day would be up to him. As for the Samadhisound years, Blemish and beyond have been requested for reissue by Sylvian but would keep their original imagery (though I’d like to think Blemish could benefit from a new design approach). Potentially more on this to come next year when the rest of the inner sleeve images should be available.
Pictures sourced from discogs.com