That Gary Numan is still going, nearly fifty years into a career that has seen more than it’s fair share of adversity (much of it self-inflicted), is fact enough for some sort of praise, however grudging. That he is making some of the most darkly compelling music of that career in 2021, well, that’s something else altogether.
Of course, it’s relatively easy to weather the erosion of time when, as Rob Halford might have put it, you’re made of metal. Organic material withers and rots, whereas Numan’s proudly cybertronic art, a few ziebarted spots of rust aside, is as robust as it was when his friends were electric. Indeed as the aeons have risen and then ebbed away, he’s upgraded and augmented, meaning that in 2021 the 5G version of Numan has few peers, a fact that he proves time and again on new album, Intruder.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Numan’s influence on the industrial scene has been so vast – there’s barely a corner of dark gothery on the planet that he hasn’t touched in some way – that he is at once everyman and no-one within this scene. Hence, with Intruder he adds not just to his own legacy but also to the legacy of the form, at times sounding every bit as much the influenced as the influencer. So, early brace Betrayed and The Gift owe as much to Bristol’s Massive Attack as they do to Telekon; the droning background noises of The Chosen reprise that theme, but the listener is never annoyed as the parade of names remembered from the past progress through the album. At the other end of the scheme, the lament of And It Breaks Me Again is much more Numanesque; here is the Gary you’ll remember from the eighties, and as such this track stands out from the rest of the album in it’s individuality.
Much has been made elsewhere of Numan’s late-stage conversion from introverted social outcast to Dave Angel-styled eco warrior; He approaches his theme from a novel aspect on Intruder, taking the part of Planet Earth; this works well, as it gives our interlocutor the chance to state his case powerfully without seeming like some sort of middle-aged ranter who’s just seen a Greta Thunberg video on YouTube, and the strength of the man’s performance leaves no doubt as to the sincerity that Numan brings to his subject matter. The dark, scitteringly anxious nature of much of the sonics employed (and props here must again be given to Numan and production compadre Ade Fenton for once more constructing such a huge, cinematic sound) reinforce the weight of the tale. The relief here is that, if you use music as an avenue of escape from the day to day horror of existence, rather than as a compounder of same, then the vastness of the sound created on Intruder and the Miltonian feelings of a terrible beauty that it invokes, will be able to accommodate you without nagging at your conscience. And, in these days of reduced expectations, that’s the sort of win-win situation I’m sure most of us will be willing to embrace.
Intruder releases on May 21st.