In many ways, the fate of Japanese Tears is reflective of the career of Denny Laine himself. Constantly reboxed, repackaged and shunted around various second-rate labels destined for the bargain bin, the fact that it was deemed necessary to add Paul McCartney’s name to shift copies (despite McCartney having negligible role in its production) is representative of Laine’s role as the nearly man of rock music. After all, this is the guy who sang the fabulously powerful Go Now , penned the Colin Blunstone smash hit Say You Don’t Mind and was an instrumental part of McCartney’s Wings along with his missus.
These two songs are redone for Japanese Tears, and they’re by far the lowest point of the record, pale shadows of their former selves that were obviously included with a view to selling records but not even achieving that. It’s a shame, because Japanese Tears certainly has its merits. Its main problem is that it doesn’t have any unity whatsoever, lurching from one extreme to another as you might expect given it was recorded over 7 years.
Take the title song for instance. It has its moments, but Laine sings in such a high register that the gravelly beauty of his voice is lost, and his wife Jo Jo’s attempt at an “Oriental” accent (“baby dawtah cwy”) is more than a little embarrassing. If I want to listen to a slightly dodgy Japanese-themed song, I’d take Tokyo Joe any day. Much, much better is Danger Zone, which would have fit the spirit of Wings’ London Town far better than the bizarre “Children, Children.” It starts off an instrumental, with a sea shanty melody and some nice buzzing synths, before Laine’s plaintive vocals kick in and you realise that maybe this album might actually be rather good.
It’s slightly scary that a guy born in Birmingham, England, can pen a bona fide country ditty like Send Me The Heart (it has the cheesy, overly literal title and everything). It’s a good song though, built around one massive pedal steel slide (or whatever you call it) that would have made Blind Willie McTell rub his eyes in wonder. There’s also the slightly perfunctory ballad Clock On The Wall, which features – wait for it – tongue clicking percussion. Maybe he couldn’t afford a drummer.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album is Same Mistakes, a laid-back effort performed by none other than Jo Jo Laine, who can actually hold a note. Lovers Lane starts off really nicely, like a Da Capo-era Love song, before descending into a fairly pedestrian chorus and getting steadily worse after that. The straight-out rockers – Somebody Ought To Know The Way and Guess I’m Only Foolin’ – are pretty dull, but we are treated to another lovely sea shanty with Nothing To Go By, another hidden gem that contains echoes of that other Laine hit, the equally loved and despised Mull of Kintyre.
Sadly for Laine, the album flopped and Wings broke up, an acrimonious falling-out with the McCartneys and bankruptcy following. It’s a shame because Laine really had all the ingredients for success – the perfect soulful voice, boyish good looks and plenty of crowd-pleasing material. Instead it’s becoming increasingly difficult to track down any of his solo material with most of it going out of print. Just Japanese Tears and his Buddy Holly tribute Holly Days have survived, but they provide a welcome insight into one of the characters that helped shaped rock history.