The press in the late 70’s and early 80’s never really took to Gary Numan, in fact, they bloody well hated him. It’s difficult to be sure quite why they did, but he was so vilified that they didn’t seem to rest until they had indoctrinated the record buying public into believing that it was actually wrong to like him, wrong to like his music, and, eventually, when he was at his lowest commercial and creative ebb, they ignored him. In many ways, this was worse as, in their opinion, he was not doing anything that was even worthy of comment. It was their vilification that was partially responsible for the reduction in quality of his output, they got what they wanted.
It is not unfair to say that ‘Middle Period’ Numan is at very best, patchy, although Numan himself is rather more scathing about his own releases from this period. I remember a guy in Didcot, when I was nearing the end of my school life, who was a Numanoid. He wore make up and a Numanesque boiler suit, he really did look a total dick. Despite this, it was good that he had his own thing, sort of. So many of us at that time were somewhat lacking in identity, drifting from one thing to the other whilst trying to like the same things as our friends liked. It took guts to walk through the park past a group of lads who were laughing at him in his ridiculous clothes (and they were ridiculous, in that setting), so fair play to him.
So what’s in the bag? Back to the beginning (almost, as this is the second album), to 1979, ‘Tubeway Army’ and ‘Replicas’.
Obviously this has ‘Are Friends Electric?’, the breakthrough song and the one, along with ‘Cars’ that is most often referenced and best remembered, but this is not one of those albums that has the big hit and a load of filler.
“Me! I Disconnect from You” – 3:23
“Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” – 5:25
“The Machman” – 3:08
“Praying to the Aliens” – 4:00
“Down in the Park” – 4:24
“You Are in My Vision” – 3:15
“Replicas” – 5:01
“It Must Have Been Years” – 4:02
“When the Machines Rock” – 3:15
“I Nearly Married a Human” – 6:31
Of the above the two other stand out tracks for me are the opener, ‘Me! I Disconnect from You’ and, with what must surely be some of the darkest lyrics of the time, ‘Down in the Park’:
Down in the park where the machmen meet
The machines are playing ‘Kill-by-numbers’
Down in the park with a friend called ‘Five’
I was in a car crash or was it the war?
Well, I’ve never been quite the same
Little white lies like I was there
Come to Zom-Zom’s, a place to eat
Like it was built in one day
You can watch the humans try to run
Oh, look, there’s a rape machine
I’d go outside if it looks the other way
You wouldn’t believe the things they do
Down in the park where the chant is death, death, death
Until’ the sun cries mornin’
Down in the park with friends of mine
We are not lovers, we are not romantics
We are here to serve you
A different face but the words never change
Apparently Numan took short stories that he had written and turned them into songs, or based songs on them. Which is where this one came from and explains the theme of the album as a whole.
All the other tracks stand up in their own right and create a really solid album where everything has its place and is in it’s place. By design or accident it is a fabulously constructed album, which could even be considered one of the dreaded ‘concept’ albums, and part of this concept is the coldness of it, the distance and the space, perhaps the sense that the narrator in the songs is always outside looking in.
I’ve rambled on enough, have a listen (the first 10 tracks are what’s on the vinyl).