It seems to me that Sylvian is a pretty forgotten artist. He’s most known, I think, as the lead singer of Japan, which is itself an incredibly forgotten group, so he’s not an icon or anything. But he is a genuinely interesting musical artist; he worked a lot with Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of the great film composers of all time and was heavily influenced by David Bowie, I’d say. He has a strange, quavering voice that is definitely Bowie influenced, but it has its own, more vulnerable quality. He creates, on this album, a wide variety of tracks. Some are very eighties rock, but in a good way. The album opener, Pulling Punches, is probably the best of these. But he also meanders into a stranger, more ambient tone on some of the tracks. Sometimes it works, but it never quite hits the transcendence I think he’s looking for and sometimes, as on the nearly nine-minute, mostly instrumental title track, which closes the album on a very somber, unsatisfying note, it gets pretty tiresome and dull. I do like the record as a whole, though it’s neither a full-on success or for everyone. Backwaters has a weird, dissonant kind of jazzy piano hook. The Ink in the Well is an acoustic, jazz inflected piece with a drop dead, gorgeous horn solo. Nostalgia is really gorgeous and strange. The first half, really, of the album is the best. Pulling Punches, The Ink in the Well and Nostalgia are the first three tracks and the album never really recovers from the drop off after those tracks. The last half is pretty weak and the tracks are a bit long, particularly Brilliant Trees, the nearly nine-minute album closer, which brings the album to a dull, somber, unsatisfying ending. It’s definitely an interesting album and those first three tracks are genuinely brilliant, but it was typically trying my patience by the time I got to those last two or three tracks. It’s worth mentioning that this album got a spectacularly good remaster in 2003; the ambient parts are really deep and layered on the remaster and the instruments are, on the whole, just really well layered together. If you’re going to track this one down, make sure to get the remaster. 3 stars.
tl;dr – interesting artist creates an interesting album of diverse sounds from jazz, rock, ambient and more; starts out very strong, but the last half meanders too much & reaches a dull ending. 3 stars.