I can remember my first, proper Gary Numan experience pretty well. It came at the Leeds Festival in 2001. Whoever was on the Main Stage and the second stage obviously weren’t tickling our fancy so my mate Dave and I wandered into what was billed as the Dance Tent. We didn’t have a clue who we were about to see, and imagine our surprise to walk in and find a diminutive black-clad figure creating an unholy noise that Marilyn Manson the previous night could only dream of. And who was creating this aural Armageddon? Well, none other than ’80s synth-hound Gary Numan.
I’m gonna be upfront – back then I was apt to look down my nose at the ’80s synth movement. Shoulder pads, dry ice and not much of substance was my opinion. And it’s fair to say that this 45 minute show (we missed the start) completely turned that on its head. Since then I have explored Numan’s back catalogue from his Tubeway Army days all the way through to this current release, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind). Additionally I’ve managed to catch a couple of quite interesting documentaries on him over the last couple of years. I found it quite amazing the influence he’s had over the years with people like Trent Reznor and Prince elevating him to genius status and his pioneering touch has even reached over into rap and hip hop.
Ever since that first experience though, I’ve been trying to find that high in a Numan album. I’ve enjoyed the majority of his music although I wouldn’t dream of classing myself as an aficionado. But until now, I don’t feel I’ve found the combination of intensity, drama and attitude that I saw in that Leeds tent.
With Splinter (SfaBM) I feel that he’s cracked it. It’s taken the musical innovation and futuristic sounding ideas from the early days, combined it with an opulent, industrial edged rock sound and at the same time thrown in a generous handful of proper quality tunes. It feels like he’s been working towards this album for a good number of years.
Opener ‘I Am Dust’ sets a very ominous tone. Yes, immediately there are similarities to what Trent Reznor was doing with Nine Inch Nails back in the ’90s but it’s a distance away from their Hesitation Marks album released earlier this year. If anything, Reznor would’ve been better taking this path. ‘Here in the Black’ continues the dark feel of the album and the heavy riff of ‘Everything Comes Down to This’ builds into a synth-laden chorus that is unmistakeably Gary Numan.
The album takes a more downbeat turn with ‘The Calling’, a sparse, atmospheric track that leads into ‘Splinter’ which has a definite Middle Eastern vibe to it in addition to an almost cinematic feel. Next up. ‘Lost’ is probably the highlight of an exceptional album. Softer and lighter than the rest of the album, it has a delicate touch that isn’t seen elsewhere. A pleasant change of pace.
This is followed by ‘Love Hurt Bleed’, maybe the most commercial track here. A cracker that Rammstein would be proud of and will become a staple in rock clubs over the next while. ‘A Shadow Falls on Me’ starts off more introspective – with, dare I say it, a touch of Ulravox – but by the end has built into another layered epic. ‘Where I Can Never Be’ is more in line with ‘The Calling’ whilst ‘We’re the Unforgiven’ has a stronger electronica feel than most of the album to start with, but by the end it really is bringing to mind the ‘Closer to God’ by Nine Inch Nails. No bad thing.
The album finishes with ‘Who Are You’, maybe the only track I feel drops the standard slightly. Not dreadful, maybe just a tad predictable before closer ‘My Last Day’ a suitably atmospheric and dramatic finale.
Throughout Numan’s vocals are strong and the blend of industrial, guitar-driven music with the electronic, synthesized music has rarely sounded better. In addition the quality of the tunes is outstanding. A masterclass by a man who remains not just an inspiration to others through past glories but a potent and vibrant musical force.
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