On the 7th of September, 1979 ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was released in the UK. That’s 38 years ago this week, to celebrate we revisit Andy Page’s look at the album many consider to be Gary Numan’s finest long player:
If the success of ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ was a surprise, Gary 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.