Gary Numan

Savage (Songs From A Broken World)

The electronic prince takes his signature brand of industrial synth-dabbling to the east (and the future)

Before we address the content of Gary Numan’s new record, we need to deal with that cover art. I understand that this is a concept album set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic version of the Middle-East, where eastern and western cultures have mixed and Numan himself is some sort of strange hybrid between Mad Max and John The Baptist. But, at the end of the day, it’s him dressed up in what looks suspiciously like a traditional Bedouin garb next to the word ‘Savage’ spelled out in faux-Arabic letters. Not only is this pretty offensive on a cultural level, it’s also pretty offensive aesthetically. If there was a musical equivalent of the Razzies (which there should be), this album would clean up in the design categories.

Thankfully, Savage’s music fares much better than its cover. Numan’s appropriation of Arabic musical patterns, textures and instruments can make for mildly uncomfortable listening at first, but on repeated plays these are the moments that really stand out. His decision to directly incorporate these less familiar (to the western ear) musical mores into his already alien-sounding style pays off. Gary Numan has always had a talent for atypical songwriting that transcends the notional limitations of traditional western music. ‘Cars’ is the first song I can ever remember hearing, and even as a toddler I remember being bewitched by that utterly unique Moog coda that seems to quiver at the threshold of a whole universe of music we’ve barely begun to explore. Those basketball-court synths from The Pleasure Principle are back in far greater numbers than they were on Splinter, and hearing them squeak over these new microtonally shifting horns and Lisa Gerrard-esque desert chants is impossible not to enjoy.

The album’s overarching concept and vision of an environmental dystopia brought about by global warming feels pretty fucking real right now. There are some neat segments on ‘And It All Began With You’ and ‘When The World Comes Apart’ where our imagined descendants lament our generation’s inability to combat climate change. But there’s a strange dichotomy at the core of this album whereby it functions as both Numan’s most political and engaged release to date while also being his most fantastical. There’s a high camp to the album that sits at odds with its treatment of real world issues, a theatricality that undoes the seriousness of the setting. Numan’s po-faced miserablism is sometimes pretty funny. When listening to the truly silly lyrics on ‘The End Of Things’ ("I see a darker shade of darkness, I hear a shadow hide in the light") or the OTT goth-disco of ‘When The World’,hard to gauge just how seriously this record and its prophesying should be taken. 

But, even if our future great-grandchildren find its content to be in as poor a taste as its artwork, this doesn’t stop Savage being a undeniably fun right now. It’s almost a shame Numan didn’t keep rolling after shooting his video for ‘My Name Is Ruin’ to create a full-length accompanying film, or, better yet, a video game. The widescreen synth vistas of excellent closing track ‘Broken’ sound like they were recorded to soundtrack a great retro-futuristic RPG in which the future of humanity hangs in the balance. Having another visual accompaniment to the album would also help distract from the awful artwork, and from the crushing knowledge that the broken world Numan sings about is the very same one we’re standing on.

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