uring the recording of What’s Going On Marvin Gaye would apparently lock himself alone in a room for an hour or more each day to masturbate furiously so that his mind would be free of sexual energy when he was singing. I’m noticing more and more grey hairs on my head each day. Today (August 10th) is the hottest day ever in Britain.
“I fall outside of her / she doesn’t notice / I fall outside of her / she doesn’t notice at all... / like blemishes upon the skin / truth sets in... / and though I tried to please her / she came right back / and stole my visa...”
How old is David Sylvian? The cover of Blemish, an acid-washed cartoon of the singer, could portray him as a 20-something, long golden hair and sheepishly cool woolly hat framing his absently-stubbled face and piercing blue eyes, myopic or not, Brilliant Trees nearly 20 years old, Japan long since gone. Still a young man though. The inner sleeve illustration has him pushing a shopping trolley through a snow-entombed forest; like a stage-dressed set even the seemingly random and meaningless is deliberate. The opening title track is a 13-minute yowl of hesitating, fluctuating electronic ribbons and Sylvian’s slow, low intonation, a love song like all songs (even Marvin’s), meaningless as anything can be (see the above lyric about a stolen visa, and ponder which type of visa it may be; a credit card, or a permission to live and work in a homeland which is not your own?). How much time and how little concern he must have to be able to sing this song.
On “The Good Son” David strikes randomly at an acoustic guitar and I’m tempted to say the notes are unplanned and unimportant but Sylvian is such a beautician that this cannot be. The melodies used on Blemish are pulled apart so slowly and deliberately that you can see the joints and mechanisms of pop music, the purposeful analogue crackle becomes a dovetail for a small song made long, the dry, dawdling dramatics of his voice, at once ancient and modern, become a cog-wheel for a pop-opera soliloquy. Like pastry rolled infinitely thin, when held up to the light it becomes transparent.
If these words are strangely put together, if they reveal no sense to you, that is because that is what Blemish does to me. “Late Night Shopping” squeezes itself back into a recognisable shape with the aid of handclaps. “How Little We Need To Be Happy” is reticent to reveal whether it means we don’t need much to be happy or we don’t need to be happy much. “The Heart Knows Better” is an oscillation and an elephant’s heartbeat.
Blemish is not sadness or happiness; it is strange observation and relapse.