It’s impossible to consider the current incarnation of Gary Numan without first discussing his glory days of chart success of some 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’t just 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 Bowie at his most avant-garde. He was the musical embodiment of every boy’s favourite sci-fi adventurer.
Numan’s subsequent gradual decline into obscurity (prolonged only by a fiercely loyal fanbase), was overturned a few years ago by a renaissance in both his creativity and perceived influence. Respectful nods from the likes of Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor and being constantly sampled by more than a few prominent dance acts, seemed to coincide with Numan rediscovering his musical direction.
With this in mind, we come to the latest release from Numan’s own label – a remix album. Anyone who’s seen Numan live recently will be well-acquainted with the fact that the majority of his set consists of material from the first five years and the last five years of his career, with what we might call the ‘fretless bass years’ nowhere to be heard. In order to bring the earlier songs in line with his later, more industrial-sounding material, this album features the old classic favourites – Are Friends Electric?, Cars, Down In The Park and the like, alongside more recent stuff – all given similar remixing treatment by some of Numan’s more ardent followers Andy Gray (Paul Oakenfold collaborator, partly responsible for the Big Brother theme tune), Flood and Curve.
The result is an admittedly more rounded affair than bolting together his hits of then and now, and apparently Numan is adopting the new versions in his forthcoming tour.
However, two very striking things emerge from listening to this album. Firstly that remix albums are very often overblown, over-long affairs with self-indulgent producers trying so hard to be clever that 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 five years era, which apart from a few notable exceptions (Prayer to the Unborn, Dominion Day) remain head and shoulders above more recent efforts. Call me a stickler but I still stand by my copy of The Pleasure Principle.