It’s been 5 years since any manner of recorded noise has seeped from the Mortal Records orifice. The interim has seen the REPLICAS anniversary tour in all its nostalgic recapitalisation fanfare, but now that the “classic album” binge has been and gone, (I can’t imagine that he’ll be giving I, ASSASSIN, or anything subsequent, the same treatment), the only direction for Gary Numan to go is either forward with a vengeance, or away completely. Apparently this album was initially spawned out of leftovers and reheated ideas that didn’t make the cut the last time – some manner of surrogate release for the next “proper” album. As it was tweaked and brewed and dismantled and rebuilt, ignored for a long time and finally returned to, something worthy emerged. This is no doubt an unorthodox and time draining method of creating, but it has provided Numan with a strikingly individual trajectory – at this stage there’s little to be gained in continuing to chase the young guns that cite him as influential. So, what we’re left with is an inventive, restructured and reassured Gary Numan, neither in the shadow of Nine Inch Nails, or indeed Gary Numan anymore. This long sought detachment from the 80s pop star tag-line can only be a good thing and DEAD SON RISING (his 16th album) certainly follows it’s own compass.
RESURRECTION slowly breaches the surface, evolving from electronic desolation into unsettling stabs of distortion and a signature evoking a collision of ancient and modern. A dark and tense journey ahead is immediately apparent. The next track contorts to a grainy synth bass line and a voice alternating between a low rant and a whispered vocal – “ Did I ever tell you what happened before? I was followed by the vision of my god, did I ever tell you what happened before? I was hiding in a dead soul ” – But it’s when the chorus kicks in on BIG NOISE TRANSMISSION that the utterly unique and instantly recognisable vocal tones of Numan really engulf everything. If there’s one track that carries the album thematically, it’s DEAD SUN RISING. This is where deism and atheism clash to the chorus of “ I’ve seen gods bleeding, I’ve seen worlds burn, I’ve seen stars falling, and I’ve seen a dead sun rising ”. There’s something vague here reaching right back to the infancy of Numan’s recorded output that I can’t quite pin-point… perhaps he’s re-entering that same creative slipstream for the first time in decades. WHEN THE SKY BLEEDS, HE WILL COME straddles a fragmented rhythm and like much of the album has that creepy ambiguity about it, walking a knife edge between one thematic dystopia and another – “ Falling from heaven, looks like a nightmare, coming to save me, I don’t believe it ”. FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE is a driving, industrial slow burner with textures of shrill synths that could be from any part of Numan’s career. With much of this album based on very definite song structure, avoiding mindless electronic chugging, what’s remarkably obvious about Numan’s vocals is that they have retained their distinctive quality – part vocoded whine, part snarl, residing somewhere between Bowie and the wonderful Fad Gadget. In fact, the later springs to mind on NOT THE LOVE WE DREAM OF, a piano ballad trapped inside an electronic membrane. One of the most prominent tracks on the album, THE FALL, stomps along at a grinding pace with merciless walls of noise. This is the very thing I imagine when I hear the phrase “ electronic punk ” being casually bandied about, mostly by people who quite simply shouldn’t speak or write about music – ever. A surprisingly acoustic drum sound is the backbone to WE ARE THE LOST, providing a jagged rhythmic frame around which whispers of vocals and a sparsity of synthesised noise seem to be draped. An Eno styled ambient piano and assortment of distant drones revisit the melody of FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE ( reprise ) giving the album a soundtrack quality and strange equilibrium where it should probably appear disjointed. This metamorphosis continues through the final two tracks – INTO BATTLE and a further piano version of NOT THE LOVE WE DREAM OF, which sounds like a Hans-Joachim Roedelius creation – A subtle and unorthodox ending.
Gary Numan is on firmer ground now than he has been for a long time. Although his output post-‘82 was increasingly shocking in it’s pandering futility, and his industrial years in the late 90s until recently were not quite as industrious as proclaimed, the ears of the world are now at a comfortable watershed. It’s a time when the strange anomalies of his catalogue will shine – when records like DANCE (’81) sound good and can openly be remembered with fondness. Previously you might have been given a dead leg or disowned for admitting such things. Ultimately, if the likes of John Foxx can frequently reconstitute himself with glorious strides of credibility, then there’s plenty of shelf life left for Gary Numan. A lifetime’s worth of mistakes have already been made so as long as he never again duets with members of Shakatak, or attempts to convince us that he is glass or an eater of dust, then he has a good chance of remaining on an even keel. – BOZ