Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, 'Are Friends Electric'
Info: The 1970’s drew to a close with a flood of great albums from household names such as Joy Divison’s Unknown Pleasures, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, London Calling by The Clash, Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, two Neil Young & Crazy Horse albums, not to mention AC/DC’s classic, Highway to Hell, spoiling music fans in what I deem to be the best decade for music in terms of innovation and sheer volume of what would become timeless albums. So while my final album wouldn’t necessarily be obscure by any means, and the artist certainly isn’t, I’m going to finish up the seventies with Gary Numan & Tubeway Army’s 1979 album, Replicas, as one that is far from the mind in comparison to what else was released that year.
Gary Anthony James Webb was born in 1958 in Hammersmith, west London and had a fairly uneventful childhood, the well-educated son of a British Airways bus driver he orignally joined the Air Training Corps as a teen and then had various jobs including as a fork-lift driver and office clerk before he became recognised as a serious contender in the late 1970’s on the music scene, only a few short years after his father had bought him a Les Paul Gibson guitar at the age of 15. According to The Little Black Book of Music he was a loner as a child and a bit of a recluse, fascinated by cars, aeroplanes and money, and this personality seemed to divide the UK music press when he was at the height of his popularity, they would regularly ridicule him and categorised him as being uncool. This didn’t dissuade his growing legion of fans who were taken by his detached stage presence. Numan himself states that he changed his name when he saw an advertisement in the Yellow Pages for a plumber named A.Neumann, though I personally don’t think the difference between Webb and Numan would have altered his course drastically.
It’s safe to say that Numan’s creative powers never surpassed the point they were at in 1979 and the very early 80’s, and this is reflected in the fact that he released his two greatest works, The Pleasure Principle (featuring best known song ‘Cars’) and Replicas, within months of each other that year. With his mythical band Tubeway Army the king of synth creates an amazing sonic landscape where organ-style piano, Moog synthesizers and drum machines come together to give a feel of a dreary, futuristic, industrial world. A definite theme, which is obvious from lyrics and song titles, is the relationship between robots and humans, Numan impersonates a replicant (for want of a better word), similar to the bio-engineered androids of 1982’s Blade Runner, observing the world through his eyes and the cagey, untrusting relationship between him and humans. The album seems to develop into a reversal of humans being in charge of the relpicants, on Track 5, ‘Down In The Park’, the sinister android invites us to ‘Come to zom-zoms, a place to eat, like it was built in one day, you can watch the humans, try to run’.
We also come across Numan’s paranoia and awareness that he could be terminated by humans at the flick of a switch, on the superb opening track ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ he pleads; ‘Please don't turn me off, I don't know what I’m doing outside, me and the telephone that never rings, if you were me, what would you do? Me, I disconnect from you.’ Being a sci-fi afficionado I love this type of album, in the same why I love the Alan Parsons Project album I reviewed recently, I Robot, but what’s really great about the album is you don’t have to get hung up on the theme or the message, because the music itself is super. Just listen to the amazing, spacey instrumental that is closing track, ‘I Nearly Married A Human’ or the albums catchiest song in the above video, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’. Replicas my ‘friends’ is a masterpiece, both enjoyable and haunting but ultimately unforgettable, there is not one bad song from start to finish.
1) Me! I Disconnect From You
2 )Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
3) The Machman
4) Praying to the Aliens
5) Down in the Park
6) You Are In My Vision
8) It Must Have Been Years
9) When The Machines Rock
10) I Nearly Married A Human
Side note: If you enjoyed the above video, you could do worse than joining me at Gary Numan’s live show in Dublin in November, The Button Factory, tickets are only €25 and reviews of his UK tour have been extremely positive http://reviews.ticketmaster.co.uk/7171-en_gb/735777/gary-numan-reviews/reviews.htm