Monday, May 02, 2005

Hear them laugh, watch them turn on me

"It was early one morning in someone's flat...I was half-sleeping and I heard this album, which turned out to be [Gary Numan's] Telekon. The melodies were oddly beautiful and had a lot more emotional impact than his influences, such as David Bowie and Kraftwerk. Gary's approach to melody is very interesting because he never over-sings. He also has an amazing way with rhythm, such as using drum machines that sound really old and rundown."

Thus began Merritt's interest in the music of Gary Numan, as recalled by him for a Numan bio written by Steve Malins. Often unfairly written off as a one-hit wonder for his track "Cars," Gary Numan was highly influential in the late 70s and early 80s and helped make the synthesizer an essential instrument in new wave pop. His glam-inspired, make-up wearing image and sinister lyrics were also imitated by more than a few musicians back in the day.

When asked in a Chickfactor interview who the best lyricist in an electropop group was, Merritt replied:

Me. Neil Tennant. Gary Numan's lyrics are underrated. People assume they're science fiction and they're really not usually, and they actually do tend to make sense and a lot of them mean things that are evidently personal to Gary Numan.

These two quotes are particularly interesting, as they counter some misconceptions of Gary Numan: that his songs are emotionless and impenetrable, and that they are mostly sci-fi stories. Well, some of them are sci-fi stories - in the Chickfactor interview, Stephin named "I Dream of Wires" as one: "He's the last electrician alive and there's a completely new technology tantamount to magic, not involving instrumentalities." But a close examination of the lyrics of, say, Telekon reveals a theme not of the future, but of things breaking and crashing.

"I Die: You Die" was covered by the Magnetic Fields and released in 1997 on the Numan tribute double album, Random, which is worth tracking down for that song alone. The arrangement features the banjo and cello prominently, with only a few synthetic accents, and it is every bit as dark and menacing (perhaps more so with Merritt's deep baritone) as the original. Numan's version was released as a single and also on the U.S. release of Telekon, but oddly enough, it was not on that album's original U.K. release. Most likely, you've heard "Cars" scores of times already, but when it starts playing, it's hard to turn it off. Also: listen to that tambourine! Flange! It was cited as Stephin's favorite recording of 1979 in the list. And let's not forget that Mr. Numan contributed vocals to the 6ths song "The Sailor in Love with the Sea" on Hyacinths and Thistles.


Blogger St. Murse said...

Yay! I was hoping you'd get to Gary Numan soon. I forgot to tell you how every cool this blog is Ernest.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Ernest said...

Thanks! (Are you J. St. D?)

11:39 AM  

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