Tangents from listening to too many records. I feel like it’s 1979 and I’m Gary Numan, attempting to introduce a dystopian, JG Ballard-influenced discourse to daytime radio.
It’s actually somewhat strange to recall, but this kind of shtick actually worked for Numan for a while; aloof, synth-powered statements of mechanical alienation, delineated by prominent hooks and a deadpan delivery – that was how the future looked back then. By album #3 –The Pleasure Principal – units were shifting in staggering quantities, as if we’d reconciled ourselves to joyous enslavement from the pincers of automaton overlords, arriving to rescue us from our grey, suburban existences. But then Numan journeyed off on his (critically-derided) tangents, the machines headed off to star in Blade Runner or Starlight Express, and the rest of us had a nice cup of tea and listened to Squeeze records, instead (and no, it still hasn’t happened between me and that girl from Clapham).
1. The rabid socialists currently occupying the LGM compound would like me to point out that Numan publicly commended Margaret Thatcher in the early eighties, thus ensuring that his swift divorce from credibility was immeasurably deserved. He’s continued to make music, more often than not guitar-orientated statements of mechanical alienation, but despite the loyal rump of hardcore fans and the occasional respectful acknowledgement from the likes of Trent Reznor and Alec Empire, he hasn’t bothered the mainstream since the early part of Thatcher’s oligarchy.
2. These days, when not featuring on TV advertisements for consumer goods or being sampled by unimaginative record producers, ‘Cars’ – easily his most iconic track, not to mention one of his most satirical – spends its remaining days on the type of compilation album enjoyed exclusively by those driving cars (irony having been phased out by this stage).
3. That riff central to ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ by Basement Jaxx – the three-chord, bone-shaking hook that drags the track toward all sorts of hectic simian insanity – that’s courtesy of Numan’s ‘M.E’, that is. Another track from The Pleasure Principal, it’s perhaps evidence that, despite being filed under “culturally naff” for the last thirty years, there are certain motifs that retain some kind of relevance.
Below the words, ‘Metal’ is demonstrative of his early, synth-lead sound; note the unorthodox lyrical annunciation and a surprisingly funky bass track. This was covered by Nine Inch Nails on one of their remix albums; the Reznor version is inordinately superior – but then again, Numan’s box of tricks was distinctively analogue. Elsewhere : appropriate (if predictable) bonus material. It’s almost like I’ve read some of the above. Even understood it.
Gary Numan / Metal
Gary Numan / M.E. (Instrumental version)
Basement Jaxx / Where’s Your Head At?