Fact: If you are a recording artist, ‘tis an uncomfortable moment when you make a record that sounds influenced by the guys influenced by the guys you influenced. Here, ol’ Gary Numan’s done gone and let his Nine Inch Nails flag fly. And it’s weird. Real weird. Maybe even weirder than the thought of what it’s like to hang out in sweatpants and a T-shirt, eating pork rinds, sipping cold drinks, and watching Monday Night Football with Marilyn Manson.
Considered by some a latecomer to the ‘70s electronic music scene, even a poor, pale Englishman’s idea of Kraftwerk, Numan’s music sometimes veered closer to the Cars than Can and was imbued with humour more than with patented German Austerity™. So, when this here sucker begins with a prolonged slab of noisy agony that clocks in at a mere three minutes but meanders like a luncheon for southern congressmen drunk on gin and reciting their favourite passages from Faulkner, it’s a sure sign that things are not going well.
By the time we’re ankle deep in the first proper track, the Pretty Hate Machine rip-off “Big Noise Transmission” (try not singing “I was up above it” while listening), panic begins to set in. Do we dare? Do we dare listen to the next measure? The next track? How could this cat, this weirdo who fired my childhood imagination with his squared-off rhythms and tales of alienation, this man who could have been a machine but was really a man, how could he not hear, with at least a modicum of objectivity, what this actually sounds like? How dull it is, I mean. (Incredulity mine.)
“Dead Sun Rising” doesn’t help matters much, sounding approximately like a pale imitation of the pale imitation of the track before it. In fact, it’s probably less offensive that Numan’s ripping off Trent Reznor than the idea that he’s ripping himself off as well. “For the Rest of My Life” sounds like something David Bowie might have left in the bog during the making of Outside, the vocals and lyrics strained, the ideas wafer thin.
Naturally, the whole album isn’t a wash – there’s a good 15-30 seconds at the start of “The Fall” that promises to be more interesting than stale cream cheese but, alas, by the time the first verse kicks in, loses to the cream cheese – stale and otherwise. The drum patterns for “We Are the Lost” (or is it “We Are Lost”?) start off interestingly enough – but then it all falls apart and we’re back to counting holes in our soda crackers. At six minutes, the penultimate track “For the Rest of My Life (Reprise)” actually feels the least torturous, thanks to the opening piano figures. Also, it is utilitarian – its innocuous nature makes it perfect background music for drooling, admiring feral cats, or as a local anaesthetic.
Word is that Numan brought these tracks together from demos that didn’t fit with other projects. This is no surprise, given the – one hesitates to call it tepid, that might be too warm a word – artistic temperature.
Perhaps a full-on collaboration with Reznor or some other, younger artist, someone who might pull some astounding performances out of Numan, rather than letting him thrash around in this mess, might have yielded better – and less derivative – results. It almost hurts to pan this album but probably not as much as listening to the whole thing a fourth time.
Gary! Come back! We need you!