There isn’t an electropop top 10 going that doesn’t include Gary Numan somewhere in it. Songs like Cars and Are Friends Electric? firmly established him in public consciousness as early as 1979, both reaching number one, but his music career started two years earlier than that and endured for ages afterwards, as this compilation celebrating his 25 years in the music business shows.
Through a whole series of industrial rock and electronic soundscapes which gave rise to a huge number of bands and artists covering his work – including Damon Albarn, Basement Jaxx, Sugababes, Armand Van Helden, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, to name but a few, the musical story of one of the most influential artists of recent times is told.
Yet The Sugababes appear in the press release for this compilation album in an unlikely capacity. “We don’t really know who Gary Numan is,” they say. Well, he was at number one while they were in nappies, I’d wager. Come to that, I was at play school.
But anyone who’s been into industrial rock at any point in their lives, as typified by Depeche Mode‘s more spiritually tortured moments, or even the finer examples of The Sisters of Mercy‘s work, will at least have heard of him. Such people probably worship him, even, for songs like My Jesus, Dominion Day, the wonderful Pure and for new single RIP which recalls a similar, nerve-jangling sound, and many of the other tracks featured on this double CD.
The Hammersmith boy’s work with synths, ancient drum machines and the odd guitar created a particularly edgy and unique sound. This is not an album on which you’ll find startling variety or magpie-like compositional quality. Rather, Numan’s music set precedents and is now once more reaping him rich rewards.
If you’ve approached Numan’s work through one of the acts who’ve covered him, you’ll be listening to this record time and again and marvelling that you didn’t know of him before. If you’re buying it as a taster of what he’s recording now rather than just for what he was doing in 1979-80, you’ll find ample evidence of an artist who has managed to evolve while keeping all that you first loved about him in the mix. RIP is only the tip of an iceberg of recent work that is just as distinctive and satisfying as his early stuff.
And ignore critics who’ve nothing more to say about Gary Numan than to comment on his image from 1979. Listen to the music. Remember the classic loops. Be amazed – and love him.