Album Review by Mark Bayross
Gary Numan must have the patience of a saint. He practically invents synthpop back in the seventies with robotised classics like CARS and ARE FRIENDS ELECTRIC?, buys an airplane, dyes his hair blue and promptly disappears into the wilderness for ten years. When he resurfaces in the nineties with a comeback that culminates in 2000’s stunning PURE album, not only is it criminally overlooked by just about everyone, but lazy hacks still insist on referring to him as an eighties artist!
The Gary Numan legacy is an impressive one, and worthy of more note than simply the fact that large chunks of his sounds gave chart acts like Armand Van Helden, Basement Jaxx and Sugababes hits. He has had two number one singles and 26 albums in the Top 75, five of which made the Top 3. He also has the distinction of having the same song – CARS – chart across four decades.
His Godfather of Industrial status is pretty much undisputed. Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson have both covered his songs (METAL and DOWN IN THE PARK respectively), while Fear Factory released CARS in collaboration with Numan himself. His songs have also been covered by Hole, The Foo Fighters, Moloko, Damon Albarn, DJ Hell, The Magnetic Fields, Trevor Jackson and Beck – this is hardly a songwriter with limited appeal.
EXPOSURE is the first release on Gary’s own Jagged Halo label, and collects together, non-chronologically across two CDs, a pretty definitive array of Numan tracks, from the above mentioned early classics (not to mention WE ARE GLASS, I DIE: YOU DIE and ME! I DISCONNECT FROM YOU) through to later cuts like MAGIC and DEADLINER (from 1994’s return-to-form SACRIFICE) and DARK, DEAD HEAVEN and DOMINION DAY (from 1997’s even-better EXILE).
Even more of a catch are the latest tracks. The awesome PURE donates five songs – the title track, MY JESUS, RIP, LISTEN TO MY VOICE and the Andy Gray mix of A PRAYER FOR THE UNBORN – each one a tour de force of moody synths and explosive guitars, but infused with the spine-tingling melody that made that album such a masterpiece. Also here are new versions of Tubeway Army’s MY SHADOW IN VAIN and EVERYDAY I DIE, plus a brand new instrumental – the titular EXPOSURE – which offers a tantalising glimpse of what we can expect from his forthcoming album.
What is incredible is how these 31 (count ‘em) songs sit together so well. The juxtaposition of the early tracks, with their glassy synths and electro-funk basslines, with the improved production and meatier sound of the later tracks rarely jars, and the variety actually makes for an even more enjoyable listen.
Gary Numan is an artist who has certainly had his ups and downs (this compilation wisely eschews his dodgy late 80s to early 90s period), but with a string of increasingly good albums in the late nineties and one of the best electronic albums of all time in PURE, he is very much on the ascent again. Whether you want to explore Numan’s early work or discover where he is at now, EXPOSURE is essential listening.