Release Date: Oct 15, 2013
Record label: Universal Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
When Krafterk became musical deities in the early 80s, they shut up shop and spent decades burnishing their legendary status. Gary Numan’s elevation to the electro-pop sainthood saw him take a different approach, ramping up his production without losing a grip on quality control. 2011’s Dead Son Rising was a gleeful patchwork of analogue electronica and the guitar crunch of his Tubeway Army days.
Now veritably re-contextualized by the coming of the technological alienation his early lyrics foreshadowed, Gary Numan’s new album seethes with tension and paranoia (“Here in the black/It comes for me,” he shudders). His incisive expositions on contemporary bemusement and anxiety are made all the more unsettling by their heaving, metal-machine accompaniment. The most compelling moments (“I Am Dust” and the title track) are like mechanized, sci-fi mini-operas, awesomely grandiose and yet disturbingly proximate enough to breathe all that fear right down your neck through your spine.
Kicking off with the gritty, crunchy, and industrial stomp of "I Am Dust" and the lyrics "We were dust in a world of grim obsession," Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) first suggests that Gary Numan is really a robot after all, programmed to spit out dour songs of loneliness and despair that use words like "dust," "broken," or "lost" as much as other songwriter's use the word "the. " In other words, his evolution from icy new wave to icy, dark industrial music is still stuck in gritty goth-pleasing mode, but complaining that his music is narrow is like complaining that an espresso machine just makes espresso, even if it's the best espresso on earth. Splinter isn't the best dark industrial, or even the best Numan album on earth, but it is much closer than you'd expect, pulling upon his mid-life crisis and bout with depression and making high-caliber, connectable songs out of these empty feelings.
Gary Numan takes real issue with nostalgia. As a pioneer in both electro and industrial music, Numan has made an entire career out of looking forward. It was his reason for exploring electronic music in the first place, and it continues to be a driving force for him today. As someone who honestly believes that “you’re only as good as your next album or your last album,” with Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), Numan is poised to rise to a level that rivals his biggest successes with his first band, Tubeway Army.
For anyone who remember electropop pioneer Gary Numan solely for the two huge hits in the genre’s infancy – Are Friends Electric?, as Tubeway Army, and Cars – it will come as a surprise to hear that Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) joins a list of some 20-odd studio albums released since Tubeway Army began it all in 1978. With David Bowie hailing the two aforementioned tracks as “a couple of the finest things in British pop,” Numan is no stranger to recognition for his influence and genius from his peers, although this is not often extended to the public beyond his hardcore fan base, with his output largely ignored since 1985’s The Fury. The Pleasure Principle and Replicas remain, of course, his most renowned collections, with the former enjoying a 30th anniversary revisit in 2009 to delight his stalwart supporters with its treasure trove of bonuses.
Trent Reznor has cited Gary Numan's alienated Eighties synth pop as a major influence, and Numan credits a NIN show with inspiring his creative rebirth. Reznor is absent on this comeback LP, though Robin Finck, guitarist and longtime NIN collaborator, figures prominently in the sound, a searing digital-industrial display brightened by Numan's slightly cracked choirboy high tenor. It's that cyborg vulnerability that makes this more interpretive than derivative: See the Arabic-scented "Splinter," or "The Calling," with its lush orchestrations.
An inspiration to decades of kohl-eyed youths using synthesizers as a force for misery, Gary Numan’s been in the shadows for some time now, delighting diehard Numanoids and few others. His 20th album finds the 55-year-old in a kind of feedback loop, sounding more like the bands he’s influenced – Depeche Mode’s doomy electronica, say, or the goth-industrial of Nine Inch Nails – than his pioneering singles of the late ’70s. It makes for a decent record that’s neither wildly unoriginal nor a natural fit, as Numan assimilates glitches and white noise into ‘Everything Comes Down To This’ and ‘Here In The Black’ without quite making the sonic textures his own.
There's a hermetic quality to Gary Numan's latest album: it gazes inwards with such intensity you wonder if he's addressing anyone but himself. You'd say he it made for his own pleasure, except that this is the sound of emotional pain. Numan has talked candidly about the depression, mid-life crisis, and struggle of becoming a parent, that he experienced while writing these songs; for him, they were a form of therapy, but for the listener they're harder work.
For a long time, Gary Numan's music career has felt like some kind of bizarre accident. The man who is often dubbed the "godfather of electro" was originally signed as frontman of a supposed punk band, Tubeway Army; he only discovered synthesizers because a Minimoog was left in the studio. His first major hit 'Are Friends Electric?' was one of the most unlikely number one singles ever - over five minutes long, with lengthy spoken word bits and a robotic prostitution lyrical theme, cobbled together from two unfinished songs and based around a flubbed note.