David Sylvian: Everything and Nothing

I could try to review Everything and Nothing as an objective listener, or I could review it as a fan. I'm an objective listener in that I've never heard this anthology and many of the hard-to-find songs on it, but I'm a biased fan in that I believe David Sylvian to be one of the greatest undiscovered musical treasures of the past 30 years.

I probably wouldn't be a Sylvian fan if I hadn't been forced to listen to his album Secrets of a Beehive over and over and over again when I worked in a Los Angeles record store in 1990. The first few times, I dismissed it as light jazz drivel; but the more I listened, the more depth and beauty I heard in the music.

Sylvian's lyrics are often cryptic but nearly always poetic, a trait that is easy to overlook with one or two casual listens. He is also an experimenter who, as this collection shows, is never satisfied to recreate his past accomplishments. He's worked with some of modern music's great innovators, including Robert Fripp, Marc Ribot, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Talvin Singh, and Hector Zazou.

Music: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
This is an excellent overview of David Sylvian's catalog, especially since it includes some rarities like "Pop Song" (originally released only as a single) and "Buoy" (originally on Mick Karn's "Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters"). Any collection like this is going to irritate one or two fans because this or that song was left off, but one obvious omission was the song "Forbidden Colours," a collaboration with Sakamoto from the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

As good as this collection is, I'm not certain it's a great starting point for people who don't know David Sylvian's work. It touches on the different sounds Sylvian has explored, but its diversity prevents the listener from being immersed in a single mood. For new listeners with leanings towards experimental and progressive music (yeah, I'm talking to you, Mad Hatter), The First Day is an excellent introduction, while people who prefer acoustic instruments and strong lyrics might prefer Secrets of the Beehive.

Packaging: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Every David Sylvian package has fallen somewhere between very good and astounding, and this one is down towards the "very good" end of the scale. It's a simple package whose primary contents are details about each song (including who played the instruments, and where and when it was originally released) and photographs. As with the music, the photos span more than 20 years of Sylvian's career, and it's kind of neat to see how he's changed over the years.

Listen if you like: This is tricky, because it's the kind of music that could appeal to everyone and no one. King Crimson fans should give it a listen (for the experimental qualities), but so should Dylan fans (for the poetry) and Peter Murphy fans (for the voice). Bowie and Bryan Ferry fans might find something they like.

If it were food, it'd be: Dark chocolate. It's an acquired taste, but it's irresistibly delicious once you acquire the taste.


The Mad Hatter said...

I actually listened to The First Day several years ago. Granted, I was in Iraq, and so I should be excused for saying I really don't remember it -- which is not to say it's awful; I just have no recollection of it other than I did listen to it.

Steve C Livingston said...

David Sylvian's most recent collaboration 'Nine Horses' with the album Snow Borne Sorrow may also provide a good starting point as it is one of his most commercial pieces of work to date.

taotechuck said...

Interesting. I just picked up the Nine Horses Money for All CD, and I'm not crazy about it so far. One thing I've learned about David Sylvian, though, is that I have to give it time. I'll have to track down Snow Borne Sorrow.