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December 09, 2020 01:39PM
It was on February 16, 1980 that I first saw the future. His name was Gary Numan.

He was Saturday Night Live’s musical guest that evening. I remember that he didn’t seem real. He was, in fact, a new kind of man, a living android who’d travelled back in time from some not-too-terribly-distant dystopia to warn us about the dangers that lay ahead. The bizarre lyrics to “Praying to the Aliens” flashed on my television screen, and I was hooked. Soon “Cars” was being played everywhere. I saw the video for it on The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. I bought The Pleasure Principle, borrowed my mother's eyeliner, and began life anew as a Numanoid.

Critics reviled him, of course. Even his idol, David Bowie (one of my idols, too, lord knows), treated him, I am sorry to say, rather shabbily. But I didn’t care. I’d seen and heard the future, and that was all that mattered. When Telekon arrived in September 1980, I could scarcely wait to get home and play the album.

I had the US Atco edition, so I didn’t realize that the track sequence was different from the UK vinyl version. Atco removed “Sleep by Windows,” replacing that number with Numan’s then-recent single “I Die: You Die.” Otherwise, the songs were the same. I was mesmerized, from the ominous synthesized opening of “This Wreckage” to the ironically euphoric conclusion of “The Joy Circuit,” which constitutes one of the most exhilarating instrumental passages in Numan’s entire career. In retrospect, however, I think the front and back covers should have been reversed; the back cover, with Gazza in his black-and-red boilersuit, gripping some sort of tube--a vacuum cleaner attachment?--while fog swirls around him, is vastly superior to the front cover’s shot of Numan’s glowing noggin floating in space, which always reminds me of the scowling stone head from Zardoz.

Telekon brought (studio-wise, at any rate) Numan’s “machine” period to an end, though that era is memorably documented live on the 79/80/81 Living Ornaments trilogy. As I look back at the record four decades later, I see that it serves as a bridge between his electrifying future shock and the experimental, Eno-esque experimentation explored so beautifully on 1981’s Dance. Such introspective tracks as “The Aircrash Bureau,” “I Dream of Wires,” and “Please Push No More” foreshadow the melodious avant-gardism of Dance’s “Slowcar to China,” “Cry, the Clock Said,” and “My Brother’s Time.” Numan’s song titles alone filled me with wonder before I ever heard them!

UK reviewers savaged the album, with one critic (whose name mercifully escapes me) actually calling Numan “dangerously insidious,” a typically hysterical bit of British journalism. The most perceptive words came from, of all places, Rolling Stone’s Don Shewey, who observed that, although “scarcely out of his adolescent years, Gary Numan is already, in terms of attitude, the Samuel Beckett of British New Wave.”

Gazza went through a particularly bad patch as the decade deepened, long before his mid-Nineties rebirth and critical reappraisal. I enjoy his new music, though I confess I’m not as interested in his industrial-sounding compositions and his Evil-God-in-Charge-of-the-Universe lyrics. (The Beckettian “And what if God’s dead / We must have done something wrong” suits me just fine, and always brings a smile to my face.) But time and again I return to the Beggars Banquet years (or at least to the 78-82 period). Those records still sound like the future to me. I’m not fanatically attentive to today’s New Musicians, but my guess is that there’s no new Numan out there, no one who looks and sounds like that shocking future, no one who can open doors by thinking, or even get to sleep by dialing “O.”
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Re: Telekon
December 09, 2020 02:09PM
Good timing! I was just contributing to a Numan album thread on Steve Hoffman Forums. It's funny. From '79-'80 my friends and I were deeply into Numan, being geeks, but once I heard Ultravox in late 80, the bloom went off the rose pretty fast. Not before he got a classic out with his Eno meets Japan influenced "Dance." Still an incredible record on side one. I go on and off the Numan bus over the years. "Telekon" is one of the "crucial 6" for me. [Replicas, Telekon, Dance, The Fury, Strange Charm, Sacrifice] His melodic structures were so well considered. That album was a joy to listen to. But you are so right on the mark with the cover criticism! Not surprising as all of Numan's covers stink; apart from "Replicas" which actually supported the "story" the songs were about and had a secondary function beyond showing Numan looking "cool." And yes, that was an attachment from his mom's vacuum cleaner!

When Ultravox were flying high, I had little time for him. Once they crashed + burnt, it was time to reinvestigate. By 1986 I got back into him and really love some of his mid 80s work [unlike so many others]. The overamped femme BVs I can overlook [your mileage may vary]. I rally hate his Kerrang! era [basically the last 25 years] and only saw the guy live once, in 1998; at about the last second I could have been interested. He keeps wanting to make atheist god-rant industrial metal albums and even though I'm an atheist too, I can't see giving that much power to religion that you become obsessed with it even from the other side of the table. So tiresome! I have his Beggars Banquet and Numa era boxes and a few other things. That's a concise Numan collection for me.

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]

For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 12/09/2020 02:22PM by Post-Punk Monk.
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Re: Telekon
December 09, 2020 02:44PM
I picked up The Pleasure Principle during my first year in college, on the strength of "Cars." (Still one of my favorite Eighties singles. I've met a few Numan fans who seem to consider it the low point of his show, each time they've seen him. Me, I'd say those guys are just being too cool for their own good.) I enjoyed the LP thoroughly, enough to buy Telekon when it came out, and to explore back to the Tubeway Army albums. And of course, I loved seeing Numan in his little car in Urgh! A Music War.

And I really loved seeing Numan in Denver on his Pleasure Principle Revisited Tour. The band sounded great, and he was an energetic, even aggressive stage presence.

Like you guys, I didn't sustain interest in Numan when he went more industrial. His late-'70s and '80s work is the prime period. A brief look through my collection, though, tells me that I never picked up Dance. I'll keep my eye out for that.
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