Gary Numan


Numan Prime returns with his nineteenth album, a reliably impressive package, finds Marc Burrows

There are two Gary Numans. First there’s what you would call the ‘canon’ Numan. This is the popular imagination Gary. Canon Numan has a career comprising precisely two songs – ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ – and two facts: that he once voted Tory and has a pilot’s licence.

When Gary played a late-night slot at Bestival in the mid 2010s two thirds of the audience were there to see Canon Numan, and left after he played both of the canon hits. Which is a shame, because Canon Numan is just the tip of the airplane wing, and the retro floor-fillers merely the most well-known end of a gigantic and pretty consistent back catalogue.

Which brings us to the other Gary Numan – Numan Prime. Numan Prime, aside from a fallow patch in the mid-2000s, has put out an album every couple of years since 1978. Numan Prime has been a massive influence on industrial rock, occupying the fuzzy line between electronica, dance music, goth, and metal, and is a direct progenitor of alt rock-era mega sellers like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins, Fear Factory, and White Zombie. He even impacted the likes of David Bowie and Alice Cooper, originally Numan influences, in an ouroboros orgy of massive beats and processed guitars.

Numan Prime’s last two albums have hit the UK charts at number two. In early 2000, when a drunk and obnoxious teenager (hi!) met Gary Numan outside a Smashing Pumpkins gig and called him “that bloke from the Fear Factor video”, it was Canon Numan he was talking to, and Numan Prime who told him, quite understandably, to “fuck off”. Quite right, too. (Gary, I’m really sorry).

Intruder is Numan’s nineteenth album. It’s a concept record, sang from the point of view of the Earth itself to the bipedal aliens that crawl across its surface, wreaking irreversible toxic havoc. That sounds a bit pretentious, and maybe it is, but it’s exactly the sort of apocalyptic narrative Numan has been spinning for years now, and the themes are depressingly timely. Fortunately, so is the music.

Working with longtime collaborator Ade Fenton, Numan has created a tapestry of atmospheric, claustrophobic and, occasionally, toweringly pissed musical strands reflecting the mood of a heartbroken and livid planet as its colonisers continue to belch fumes in its eyes and chisel at its face (“I can listen to you scream – pretty music to my ears” sings mother Earth via Numans familiar, affected yowl on the title track, “you are death and I am betrayed” seethes the opening number).

Intruder’s musical palette will be relatively familiar to anyone following Numan’s career, especially post-millenium as those industrial influences seeped back to their source, reinvigorating it. Ticktocking beats that skitter from ear to ear, synthy tones that float somewhere above your head, guitar power chords used to punch the point home – there’s always an audio feast afoot. Numan’s evocative voice is rarely left without a deep, three-dimensional strata of sounds to surround it, and though occasionally formulaic the atmosphere is always effective, especially on the heady, layered and absolutely livid ‘The Chosen’. Elsewhere the Eastern influences that drove 2017’s Savage (Songs From A Broken World) are present, as on ‘And It Breaks Again’ or the pulse of ‘The Gift’, though they have receded to an occasional flavouring rather than an overall, dominating theme. There’s a couple of certified bangers here, too. ‘Saints and Liars’ seems taylor made for the sticky floor of London’s legendary goff hangout Slimelight, while ‘Intruder’ has a humdinger of a chorus, channelling Smashing Pumpkins’ Numan-influenced ‘Ava Adore’ through some genuine menace. It’s an unsettling highlight.

Believers in Canon Numan, those still dismissing our Gaz as a Thatcher-voting, propeller-headed retromancer, will be perhaps surprised to find a lot to enjoy on Intruder, it’s a sumptuous and cinematic experience that lets its mood and theme power and reflect each other to great effect, full of gorgeous moments of texture and depth. Those more familiar with Numan’s actual career will have less to impress them but plenty to enjoy. Intruder breaks little new ground for a man that’s been tinkering with synths, futurism and apocalyptic themes since before Trent Reznor was tall enough to go on the bigger rides at Disneyland. There’s a few too many repeated melodies, and too few differing musical moods. Still, this is a reliably impressive package from a man who knows his business, and crucially still has something to say. It’s Prime Numan in his prime.

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