The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gary Numan / Tubeway Army


5-27-08 Gary Numan / Tubeway Army

7" ARE 'FRIENDS' ELECTRIC? / WE ARE SO FRAGILE BEGGARS B DE INT 111.520

1979 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

LP DANCE ATCO US SD 38-143

1981 11 TRKS poster, with Mick Karn etc.

7" DOWN IN THE PARK / DO YOU NEED THE SERVICE? BEGGARS B UK BEG 17

1979 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

LP I, ASSASSIN BEGGARS B UK BEGA 40

1982 8 TRKS

LP PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, THE ATCO US SD 38-120

1979 10 TRKS

7" REMEMBER I WAS VAPOUR / ON BROADWAY BEGGARS B UK SAM 126

1980 2 TRKS no pic sleeve, promo

LP REPLICAS ATLANTIC JPN P-10729A

1979 10 TRKS insert

CD REPLICAS re-issue BEGGARS B US BBL 7CD

1979 16 TRKS (6 x bonus tracks)

7" THAT'S TOO BAD (7" x 2) BEGGARS B UK BEG 5 + 8

1980 5 TRK EP; with pic sleeve, re-issue 7"x2

LP TUBEWAY ARMY BEGGARS B UK BEGA 4

1978 12 TRKS Blue vinyl, original pressing

CD TUBEWAY ARMY kami sleeve, re-issue IMPERIAL JPN TECI-24259

1978 25 TRKS ('04 issue) (13 x bonus tracks, all ‘live’)

7" WE ARE GLASS / TROIS GYMNOPEDIES [1st Movement] BEGGARS B UK BEG 35

1980 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

12" WHITE BOYS AND HEROES BEGGARS B UK BEG 81T

1982 3 TRKS with pic sleeve

Not sure that I accurately remember how I first heard of Mr. Numan – did I see the “Replicas” LP on a ‘new release wall’ in Moby Disc? Or did I read about it first, perhaps in “Smash Hits”? I was definitely onto Mr. Numan before I went to England for the first time, in the fall of 1979. I remember my ‘revelation’ as to what the ‘tubeway army’ was – the morning commuter pedestrian traffic on the London underground, i.e. “The Tube”.

From ’79 – ’82, I bought about as much Gary Numan / Tubeway Army as I could find – which was quite a bit. At some point, I soured on his records, and didn’t care anymore, and sold a lot of them off, probably around the time of “I, Assassin”. Truth was, in ’83 I was wholly absorbed in New Zealand music – with groups like Blam Blam Blam and Coconut Rough; I paid attention to little else at that time.

I saw Gary Numan at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium; it was not a great show – him on his little golf cart. I liked his first videocassette that I found, “New Man” – which had a lot of his clips collected together. My friend Joe eventually got some Japanese laser discs of some live shows by Mr. Numan – and they were…OK. But enough was enough. I haven’t heard a ‘new’ Numan album in over 20 years.

Over the last year, I have acquiesced and obtained CD’s of the two Numan albums that I still like – the first album and “Replicas”. He was obviously on to the zeitgeist that captured people’s imaginations in 1979, with his “synth pop”. I think he beat John Foxx to the punch, but when Foxx offered up “Metamatic” in 1980, it was obvious he was ahead of Numan, in the ‘synth’ pop credibility sweepstakes. I always found it disingenuous that Numan announced his “retirement” several times, and never did.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Donato said...

I first heard Numan on, believe it or not, super-conservative Orlando AOR rock station Zeta-7. It was when “Replicas” was released here and the track was “Are ‘Friends’ Electric.” Hey, I was moved as it was early 1979! I thought the track completely rocked in a way I was waiting for. “New Bowie” was the phrase on the lips of my friends at the time as we had not yet discovered Ultravox. I bought each Numan album out at the time in US editions. Then the Tubeway Army LP even got a release! [Though your Japanese copy has a way unique cover] I didn’t buy singles as imports were just starting for me and the selection was meager in Orlando anyway. Then in 1980 Telekon came out. My friends and I played that one a LOT. I did snag what I feel to be one of his best singles ever on import, “We Are Glass/Trois Gymnopedies.”

By late 1980 I managed to hit the motherlode by hearing Ultravox in their Vienna phase and Numan was certainly cast in the harsh white light of mediocrity following that revelation. But I still had some time for Numan, though it was by now clear where he got his mojo from. I have powerful memories of my birthday in 1981 as that week saw new albums from Ultravox [Rage In Eden], John Foxx [The Garden] and Numan [Dance]. To this day I still don’t think I’ve ever been hit as hard with birthday music purchases! There was a time when giants walked the earth!!

Dance was a great album and managed to take his music into a new phase where Japan and Brian Eno displaced Ultravox as his muse. The music now had Eno/Satie ambience or slurred jazzfunk rubbing shoulders with his familiar techno rock. He was sharp enough to get Mick Karn to play bass on the album. Numan is nothing if not sharp. That was followed the next year by the more homogenized I, Assassin LP. The slurred, dissolute jazzfunk was now matched with slurred, dissolute vocals. Numan started to fade away for me here. When the tragic looking Warriors failed to get a domestic release, the Mad Max inspired cover [with Numan’s skin bright orange as if he overdosed on beta carotene tanning pills] didn’t motivate me to hear it. Numan dropped off the radar entirely for me at this time.

I didn’t pick up any Numan music for 3-5 years. By the dreaded middle-late 80s Ultravox had released some truly dire music before imploding. John Foxx released his Van Morrison influenced album In Mysterious Ways [wha?] and then dropped off the face of the earth for a dozen years. Maybe it was time to check out Numan again. He was dropped from his label by this time and had started his own label. I picked “The Fury” on CD and it was pretty darn good! He sounded really revitalized and now his vocals were abetted by an over the top female backing vocalist. Vocals, never being his strong suit, I welcomed this initially. “The Fury” is an album packed with some of my favorite Numan songs. Particularly “Call Out The Dogs” with it’s Bladerunner samples and the thunderous “The Pleasure Skin.” Dick Morrissey contributes a lot of sax and the album sounds pretty lively.

It was followed by the even better “Strange Charm.” If I had to take 3 Numan albums to a desert island, they would be “Replicas,” “Dance” and this one. The title cut is especially vibrant work with Numan weaving countermelodies vocally with the backing singer against the syncopated polyrhythms. By this time Beggars Banquet issued the great 2xCD compilation of his “classic” material, “Exhibition.” It was good having some old Numan on CD. The choice of cuts was nothing to complain about and the first of the myriad remixes of “Cars” appeared here in a great Zeus B. Held remix. In contrast, the CDs that Beggars Banquet had released were “twofers” with about 60% of each album shoehorned onto a disc so I gave those a big pass. By now Numan had signed with a new label, IRS Records, but the albums were lackluster. Fortunately, Beggars Banquet Japan decided to issue their great Asylum boxed sets of god! These puppies had everything issued on BB on two 4xCD boxes and a bonus live disc with his Living Ornaments live set. All the remixes. All the b-sides. The only complaint might be that several tracks from Living ornaments were scattered on the studio albums as bonus tracks, but the point is that they were all here!

Also that year was the interesting Sharpe & Numan album. Bill Sharp of keys for jazzfunk group Shakatak. Numan only sang but the end result was pretty good. He’s too insular so any collaboration is a good thing. The first single they did came out 4 years earlier and “Change Your Mind” was a decent hit so they eventually did a whole album.

By the time of his last IRS solo album Outland, he was pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s arguable that even Warriors [which I’d now heard since it was part of the Asylum 2 boxed set] was at least a half leg up on this misbegotten record. The short instrumental bits were nice, though. At this point Numan decamped to his own Numa label again and put out another bad one, his worst by his reckoning.

Truth be told, I thought Machine & Soul was at least halfway decent compared to Outland. I mean, it had a Prince cover [“U Got The Look!”] fer cryin’ out loud! Also the single “The Skin Game” also gets on my Numan desert Island compilation as one of his best tracks. And the b-sides of this period were great instrumentals.

Then in 1994 when no one expected it, Numan released the stellar album “Sacrifice.” Guitars came to the fore for the first time since “Replicas.” The music is vibrant and intriguing. The lyrics largely concern Numan’s atheism. Numan says he finally gave up and stopped trying to get on the radio and just followed his muse. If you’ve got to have a late model Numan album, this is definitely the one. And around this time Numan’s fortunes began to take an upswing. He was no longer being soundly derided in the UK press and some popstars began to sing his praises, not the least of which was Trent Reznor.

Too bad that Numan followed up this strong foothold with yet another album of atheist “darkwave” anthems, for now Numan’s style had a convenient genre tag. “Exile” is where my Numan collection ended thus far. It’s not a bad album, but it is the sound of a furrow being plowed. The album that came after that [2000’s “Pure”] was ever more of the same thing. Samples I heard online failed to convince.

In his checkered career, it is conceivable one day that I will again buy his music, but for now I’m over it [again].

12:21 PM  

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