Gary Numan gets the reissue treatment this week, as three early albums are remastered and re-released on vinyl.
Gary Numan & Tubeway Army – Replicas
Replicas, (originally released in June 1979), was the second Tubeway Army album and was the follow-up to the more punky eponymous debut the previous summer.
When ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ reached Number 1 for his band Tubeway Army in June 1979, it began an intense period of activity for Gary Numan. He was catapulted from cult concern to megastar almost overnight, though the single did take seven weeks to arrive at the summit. By the time the album appeared, it was credited to Gary Numan & Tubeway Army.
The album begins as if Numan is gingerly dipping his toe into the waters of electronica, with first track ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ starting off almost like a Young Marble Giants song until it gathers its own identity and confidence. However, when ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ follows as track two, it is like a juggernaut arriving and still sounds absolutely extraordinary some 36 years on, with THAT riff and Numan’s most singular of singing voices. The single was an unexpectedly huge hit, remaining at the top for four weeks and certainly helping to catapult its parent album to Number 1 too. It has aged extremely well, losing none of its sinister power – a genuinely thrilling single and surely one of the best ever chart-toppers.
In truth, ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ sets a standard that is almost impossible to live up to over the course of Replicas, though Numan and band have a pretty good try nonetheless. The stately ‘Down In The Park’, which was the first single released from the album, is another highlight. Meanwhile, the intro of ‘You Are In My Vision’ is a very close cousin to L7‘s ‘Pretend We’re Dead’, as unlikely as that may sound (that song coming 15 years later!)
The title track, meanwhile, makes beautiful use of those wonderful analog synth sounds that, while being castigated by some at the time for making the music cold and sterile, are ironically now employed to bring warmth to modern records.
‘It Must Have Been Years’ echoes back to the less sophisticated sound of the debut, while ‘When The Machines Rock’ sounds a little like something that Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark could have been working on when Numan beat them in the race for commercial success.
‘I Nearly Married A Human’ is a downbeat end to the album; a six-and-a-half minute instrumental track that does sound a little like it is making up the numbers.
Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle
If the success of ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ was a surprise, Numan was quick to prove that he was no flash in the pan by having another Number 1 single just a couple of months later with perhaps his best-known song ‘Cars’.
Amazingly, The Pleasure Principle (credited, like all future releases from hereon in, to Gary Numan), was released just three months after Replicas and is, in my humble opinion, Numan’s masterpiece.
It was a confident move to hide ‘Cars’ away as the ninth track on the ten-track album, although any casual fans waiting for it to appear may have been tricked by ‘Observer’, a couple of songs earlier and a dead ringer for the big hit.
After the instrumental ‘Airlane’ opens the album in low key style, ‘Metal’ picks up the pace and sets the bar very high. This time though, Numan is able to fill the album with classic synth tunes – extraordinary, given the exceptionally short gap between albums.
‘Complex’ is perhaps the album’s high point, with elegant (real!) strings backing up the classic synth sounds. It is easy to forget that, in those days, getting any kind of decent sound out of a synthesiser was an arduous and extremely tricky process, the instruments having to be ‘tuned’ using a plethora of knobs and buttons. ‘Complex’ was a brave choice for the album’s second single (after Cars), but reached a creditable Number 6 in the charts in the winter of 1979.
To his credit, Numan didn’t release any more singles from an album where probably seven of the songs could have feasibly been hits. The song ‘M.E.’ was sampled by Basement Jaxx and makes up the core of their claustrophobic hit ‘Where’s Your Head At?’
The largely instrumental seven-and-a-half minute epic ‘Conversation’ does not outstay its welcome, running into mega-hit ‘Cars’ (also still sounds mighty, but not quite as mighty as ‘AFE’!), before ‘Engineers’ brings the album to a close on a high.
Gary Numan – Telekon
While Replicas and The Pleasure Principle are presented with their original vinyl track listings, 1980’s Telekon is given the deluxe treatment, with a double vinyl release allowing for a myriad of extra tracks, not least the Top 10 hit singles ‘We Are Glass’ and ‘I Die: You Die’ which had been released between albums, just in case anyone thought that Gary was getting a little lazy with his release schedule.
Telekon is noticeably more downbeat than its predecessors and takes more effort to engage with, but it is another example of the remarkable purple patch that Numan was in during this period. He could do no wrong in the eyes of his ever-growing and fiercely loyal (Tubeway!) army of followers, many of whom he has retained to this day.
Oddly enough, ‘The Aircrash Bureau’ is one of the more upbeat tracks, while the title track is a discordant treat. And wait, is that Blondie‘s ‘Heart Of Glass’? No, it is ‘Remind Me To Smile’, a track which uses the same distinctive drumbeat intro but then branches off into a splendid song which was wisely issued as a single abroad, with the far less commercial ‘This Wreckage’ (the album’s opening track) released in the UK, brilliant though it undoubtedly is.
‘I Dream Of Wires’ and ‘Remember I Was Vapour’ come along on side two, both five-minutes-plus, and both pretty hard work to get into compared to the likes of ‘Cars’ and ‘Complex’. Stick with them, though, and the rewards are there.
Some interesting bonus tracks include a Piano Version of ‘Down In The Park’ and the USA Mix of ‘Remind Me To Smile’, amongst others.
It is absolutely astonishing that Gary Numan assembled this body of work in such a short time; from Replicas through The Pleasure Principle to Telekon in a mere fifteen months – and all three reached Number 1 in the UK album charts. Numan was and is a true pioneer and perhaps only in recent years has received the kind of respect in the electronic music field previously monopolised by Kraftwerk.