The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Gary Numan
Splinter Nick Reed , October 17th, 2013 10:32

Add your comment »

For a long time, Gary Numan's music career has felt like some kind of bizarre accident. The man who is often dubbed the "godfather of electro" was originally signed as frontman of a supposed punk band, Tubeway Army; he only discovered synthesizers because a Minimoog was left in the studio. His first major hit 'Are Friends Electric?' was one of the most unlikely number one singles ever - over five minutes long, with lengthy spoken word bits and a robotic prostitution lyrical theme, cobbled together from two unfinished songs and based around a flubbed note. His famous, often-imitated makeup-heavy image and stiff stage presence were little more than the honest result of putting a shy kid with bad acne on one of television's biggest stages.

All this left Numan with a rather strange career trajectory - he couldn't handle fame when he had it (famously 'retiring' in 1981), then couldn't recapture fame when he wanted it (releasing 16 albums since). He was routinely derided in the press, often by the same publications that would call him a 'legend' a decade later, when acts like Nine Inch Nails and Basement Jaxx started namechecking him. There's reason for this - while most 80's synthesizer music sounds inexorably tied to its era, Numan's best work has always felt timeless. Overplayed as it is, 'Cars' still feels relevant today, and just may outlive all of us. When his late-career resurgence began in earnest with his 1994 darkwave album Sacrifice, it never felt like an attempt to recapture past glories - if you didn't know about his past, you'd think he was just some new guy with an odd voice who listened to a lot of industrial music. Luckily, now two decades into this "second career", that odd voice has held up. 

This is important, because really, that's Numan's strongest asset - while he's always been an expert in the sort of chord progressions and atmosphere that inspire some serious chills, all he really has to do is let his voice fly. Just listen to 'I Am Dust', the opening track here; when he belts out the song's big chorus, it conjures the sort of power that all the Trent Reznors in the world couldn't capture, no matter how loud they yell. No disrespect to Reznor, but Numan's voice really is a singular thing. There's nobody who sounds quite like him - it's all up to the way he uses it.

Thankfully, the songs on Splinter are built to show off the man's strengths. In a way it's the album we've all been waiting for since Sacrifice turned him around - while his last few tended to repeat certain things from song to song, there's some real variety here. The loud guitars and skittering industrial beats are still there for the most part, but this time he knows when to let things breathe a bit - 'Where I Can Never Be' gets a lot of mileage out of a creaky, gothic atmosphere, while 'Lost' is just him and the keyboards. There are dramatic, poisoned string arrangements ('The Calling'), monster disco floor-fillers ('Love Hurt Bleed'), earworms ('Who Are You'), and slow anthems ('Everything Comes Down to This'). There's even something for those who liked the vintage Numan - the brooding and relentless title track harkens all the way back to Replicas. He even has a few tricks up his sleeve instrumentally (perhaps courtesy of his sidekick Ade Fenton), such as glitched out techno beats on 'A Shadow Falls On Me', or the beautiful coda of 'My Last Day', which has a layered, cinematic feel to it. Even at 55 minutes (quite long for a Numan album), it's full of ideas.

This is the sort of inspiration that only seems to hit him when he's going through a rough patch. Nice for his fans, but a little unfortunate for him. Pure, the album that was seen as his real comeback (even spawning a top 40 single!), was mostly inspired by the loss of an unborn child and a dog. Even when he was in the doldrums of the mid-80s, the unexpected death of Tubeway Army bassist Paul Gardiner led him to write 'A Child With the Ghost', one of his greatest songs ever. This time Numan struggled with depression in the past few years (which nearly broke up his marriage). This all comes through in the lyrics, which are mostly good (one particularly haunting line: "I don't believe in the goodness of people like me"), even if they lay it on a little thick sometimes. Still, it provides a pretty good idea of what's on Numan's mind - 'My Last Day' is Numan reflecting upon just that, the sort of depressing thought that inspired him to subtitle the album "Songs From a Broken Mind". He's telling the truth - that mind was apparently too broken to even write songs for a good while, hence the long wait. That such a period resulted in arguably his best album in about three decades is just another odd twist in a career that's been nothing but.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

No Refugee
Oct 17, 2013 3:26pm

F*ck yeah!

Reply to this Admin

Oct 17, 2013 4:22pm

discokid is really looking forward to this

Reply to this Admin

Darren Cawdron
Oct 17, 2013 5:36pm

The best album ive heard in a long long time.

Reply to this Admin

Steve Butterworth
Oct 17, 2013 8:54pm

This review sums up Gary extremely well. This brilliant album is not on a par with pure or jagged. Its taken garys music to a much higher benchmark. He knows how to make music period. Why has the music industry failed to acknowledge this for so long is quite beyond any Numan fan. Hes back no question but then he never ever went away.

Reply to this Admin

Oct 17, 2013 9:23pm

A legend and friend. Superb!

Reply to this Admin

Oct 17, 2013 10:38pm

The Quietus review is great and probably one of the best, but like many it's written by people like us who love Gary Numan, nothing wrong with that. But best of all was the review in NME, not because it was the best, it wasn't it was just above average...but because it was there. NME only reviews artists that are relevant to today's music scene and to see both Splinter and Love Hurt Bleed reviewed in that mag made me very proud to still be a fan after all these years. Well done Gary!!

Reply to this Admin

tracy jane bourke
Oct 19, 2013 11:52am

gary numan brilliant artist looking forward to manchester show like catching up with an old friend massive fan since 78 my first gig teletour 80 still have my tour scarf! love u gazza xx

Reply to this Admin

Oct 20, 2013 3:54am

'do you think im lost
do you think i care'

whats not to like lol

Reply to this Admin

Oct 21, 2013 2:41am

I remember seeing Gary Numan on tour in the usa. It was a fantastic show with excellent light show and robots on stage...A night I'll never forget!

Reply to this Admin

eddie collins
Oct 26, 2013 9:45am

can't disagree with this review.since i purchased the pleasure principle way back in 1979 this man's music has been with me,regardless of when the press tried to rubbish him and put him down. he is still relevant these days,and where are all the so-called better artists from his era? the answer is nowhere,as he has been a huge influence on many acts who have achieved great success using his blueprint for success.he has diversified,experimented,sometimes failing,sometimes succeeding,but at least he has kept going.the loyal fanbase has always been there,and gary knows it always will be.long may he continue to entertain us.

Reply to this Admin

mark garton
Oct 29, 2013 8:39pm

splinter as can be expected from the genius called numan is out of this world real music much better than the insipid mush we hear on the radio

Reply to this Admin

Fool in the dark
Nov 9, 2013 3:57pm

Honest, still raw and very meaningful album - "Here in the black it comes.." Superb, better than DSR, looking forward to last night of tour and party!

Reply to this Admin

Nov 15, 2013 8:15pm

Gary Numan,what a legend,i was lucky enough to meet the great man(finally,after a 35 year wait!!ha!) at the 02 Sheffield on Monday 11th Nov.I won,t forget it for a long time,just as in your review for Splinter,the man is as honest,and genuine as the day is long!He can still give the young musicians of today a run for there money,when its done proper!!Great review by the way.

Reply to this Admin

Jan 28, 2017 2:56pm

I loved this album so much, I had to give a review. I can't really pinpoint one favourite track, that's the measure of the album when all of them are amazing. All the tracks have that unmistakable haunting Gary Numan signature beat, but also something very different. The sort of beat and rhythm that gets into your thoughts and conscious that you just can't help singing, playing the drums and instruments with him and remembering just how fabulous and talented he really is.

Reply to this Admin