Gary Numan - Jagged
Few artists can claim to have had a career as long and prolific as Gary Numan. Even though this is his first new album for some five years, behind him he has a huge body of work stretching back into the late 1970's. However, it is for this early work that he is best known. Its not for no reason that Vince Noir in The Mighty Boosh has "Cars" as his ringtone. It is far and away what Numan is famous for, that and "Are Friends Electric", the hit he achieved with The Tubeway Army. Numan became something of a figure of fun in the 1980's and early 1990's, known more for his love of planes (and ability to crash them) and also for his rather extreme and grotesque answer to his receding hairline (in brief, having the bald patch cut off and the hairy sides stretched over) than an ability to make music.
However, anyone who has read his autobiography, "Praying to the Aliens", will know that Gary Numan is quite a jolly little fellow. In fact, in some ways he is to be applauded. In his book, he comes across as just the sort of chap who wouldn't be out of place in the jungle with Ant and Dec or hoofing it up with Brucie on Come Dancing. But he has never taken the easy route, never taken the daft option and played on his early 80's credentials to become a caricature in the way some of his peers have. Instead, he has consistently made music, some of it very interesting and challenging. Whilst he has never reached the heights of some of his peers, such as Depeche Mode, he is to be congratulated for continuing to do what he loves rather than taking the quick and easy money.
Therefore, I am sure no-one was happier than Numan to see his music and indeed his artistry start to receive some recognition in the past few years. Fellow musicians such as Trent Reznor, The Bravery and even Marilyn Manson have cited Numan as a major influence. Beck is quoted as saying "I don't care what anyone says, Gary Numan is cool". And even David Bowie claims that "Numan has written a couple of the finest things in British pop". That'll be Cars and Are Friends Electric then, but all the same, in recent times Numan has seen quite an about face in opinions to his work.
And so onto this, his latest album, his first since 2000's "Pure". Working alongside producer Ade Fenton, he has created a very aggressive, electronics driven album, probably the heaviest of his career. It has a very distinct sound, something that carries on through the record - vocals sound dark but clear, Numan's very unique phrasings and expressions coming through in a way that manages to sound both soulful and clinical. The drums also sound powerful and definitely live - more organic than the rest of the music, representing a power all their own. This is very evident on "Scanner", a stand out track, full of interesting sounds that come across as both familiar and alien - piano and guitar competing with a chugging bass and distorted electronica.
Also excellent is "Haunted", with Kashmir guitars and drums pounding, the song drifting from darkness to light, back and forth. The instrumentation on this track is superb, Nine Inch Nails springing very much into my mind. It also has a very old fashioned "Numan" feel to it; the keyboard line in particular haunting back to a familiar sound. "Melt" also is wonderful, but sounds maybe a shade to similar to "Haunted". It to takes the heavy approach, buzz guitar with the vocal very up close, the personal lyric delivered very close to the listener.
Variety though, or rather the lack of it, is something that really lets this album down. Opening track "Pressure" takes an age to get going and when it does, tells you everything you need to know about this album - the sound that is going to carry you through to the end. Stand-out moments like "Haunted" and "Melt" aside, there is little variation from the "Head Like a Hole" styling and electronic clattering. All songs drift from quiet to loud, with a similar pattern. Occasionally, it really works - "Halo" is a great example, a protracted opening making the moment the song kicks in something very special. But when every song does that, things do start to just feel the same.
Gary Numan is obviously still making music on his own terms, with his own label and his own agenda. Whilst this record sees him looking back to the sound that defined him, it also contains enough of the "now" to make it worth attention. However, the lack of variety does let it down, making it unlikely to be an album you will return to again and again.