It’s impossible to consider the current incarnationof Gary Numan without first discussing his glory days of chart success ofsome 25 years ago. While his last few albums, especially Pure, have undoubtedly shown morefocus and relevance, rendering him more than just an ’80s throwback act,his greatest achievements were made right at the beginning of hiscareer.
What made Gary Numan so startlingly original wasn’tjust the prominence of the synthesiser.It was the whole out-of-this-world experience – the android-like appearance,the Philip K Dick-inspired lyrics and the voice reminiscent of David Bowieat his most avant-garde. He was the musical embodiment of every boy’sfavourite sci-fi adventurer.
Numan’s subsequent gradual decline into obscurity(prolonged only by a fiercely loyal fanbase), was overturned a few years agoby a renaissance in both his creativity and perceived influence. Respectfulnods from the likes of Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor and being constantly sampled bymore than a few prominent dance acts, seemed to coincide with Numanrediscovering his musical direction.
With this in mind, we come to the latest release fromNuman’s own label – a remix album. Anyone who’s seen Numan live recentlywill be well-acquainted with the fact that the majority of his set consistsof material from the first five years and the last five years of his career,with what I call the ‘fretless bass years’ nowhere to be heard. In order tobring the earlier songs in line with his later, more industrial-soundingmaterial, this album features the old classic favourites – Are FriendsElectric?, Cars, Down in the Park, etc, alongside more recent stuff – allgiven similar remixing treatment by some of Numan’s more ardent followersAndy Gray (Paul Oakenfold collaborator, partly responsible for the BigBrother theme tune), Flood and Curve.
The result is an admittedly more rounded affair thanbolting together his hits of then and now, and apparently Numan is adoptingthe new versions in his forthcoming tour.
However, two very striking things emerge fromlistening to this album. Firstly that remix albums are very often overblown,over-long affairs with self-indulgent producers trying so hard to be cleverthat the essence of good that was originally in the song is lost. Secondly,it still can’t be denied that the best songs here are from the first fiveyears era, which apart from a few notable exceptions (Prayer to the Unborn,Dominion Day) remain head and shoulders above more recent efforts. Call me astickler but I still stand by my copy of The Pleasure Principle.