Gary Numan’s artistic evolution has been a joy to behold. Someone who has known both blazing highs and aching lows as a major label artist, Gary’s development has been almost entirely in the public eye, but his post-‘pure’ emergence as a cult artist able to straddle the worlds of pop and industrial with unfailing aplomb has been nothing short of riveting. It’s been some time since 2013’s ‘Splinter (songs from a broken mind)’ was unleashed and, since then, Gary has expanded his scope, developing the remarkable ‘Savage’. Here, dark soundscapes conjure up their own unique images and there is a greater sense of Gary using music to evoke the world in which he lives, one that is coloured (but not controlled) by his documented struggle with Asperger’s. A full-blown concept album that considers the collide of East and West as they’re forcibly globalised by a global catastrophe, the music is exotic and alien, drawing upon contemporary ethnic influences and feeding them through the sci-fi lens that has long been at the heart of Gary’s music. It is a work of staggering scope, almost too dense to absorb in one sitting, and if it initially seems to be less compelling than ‘splinter’, that’s only because its complexity renders it harder to digest, and yet so much more satisfying in the long run.
The album opens with the hazy ‘ghost nation’, an apocalyptic monolith that renders the world an arid, lifeless place, although its coruscating, industrial-strength rhythms still manage to give way to a soaring chorus that only Gary could get away with placing at the core of such a song. ‘Bed of thorns’ sees the Eastern influences given full reign on a piece of music as devastating, and yet as beautiful, as anything Gary has attempted; the electronic elements rendered with a potency that recalls the remix work he did with Rico and Sulphur. An easy highlight, the stomping, floor-filling beat of ‘my name is ruin’ is a perfect summation of Numan’s recent output, the brooding synths and bass-heavy beats offset by a nagging melody and, at the heart of it all, Gary’s own voice – unique, powerful, peerless. It is instantly recognisable and it is quite impossible to imagine this darkly evocative music sung by anyone else. Few artists have made such a career out of channelling their inner-most thoughts and feelings into their music, but in an era of artifice, there are still those for whom integrity is everything. ‘The end of things’ edges into the film-score territory of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, only to build it into a more conventional song structure than might be expected from a soundtrack. That darkly cinematic feel carries over into the throbbing, glacial synths of ‘and it all began with you’, a track that strips away the layers of guitars and allows piano to glisten gently at its heart before it’s allowed to grow once more, reaching an emotive and quite beautiful crescendo. The first half of the album concludes with the snarling ‘when the world comes apart’, a track that not only works well within the context of the album, but which would also serve to fill the dance floor of any rock club worth its salt.
The second half of the album emerges with the downbeat ‘Mercy’, a cold cross between latter day Depeche Mode and Nine inch Nails, Gary and his band piling layers of distressed guitar over the overloaded electronica. It is a dark piece of music and one that leads neatly into the heavily compressed, sonic nightmare of ‘what god intended’, a jabbering slab of taut industrial rock that draws the listener ever forward to the monstrous ‘pray for the pain you serve’. As dark as its title, the track cleverly combines a skittering beat with eastern influences to harrowing effect. Elements of Nine Inch Nails’ dense, trip-hop infused ‘year zero’ emerge on ‘if I said’, before the album concludes with the sinister coda, ‘broken’, a track that recalls the soundtrack work of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ composer Bear McCreary.
‘Savage’ is a remarkable piece of work. The conceptual framework allows for a more coherent outing than ‘pure’, whilst the lessons learned through ‘splinter’, as well as outings with artists such as Rico, have given Gary a wide palette from which to paint. The result is a record that ebbs and flows beautifully, occasionally breaking into violent life, but always furthering the story. As a result, a first listen can prove underwhelming, the lack of stand-out tracks seemingly problematic, until you realise that they’re all stand-out tracks and that the coherence of the whole is of more importance than the emergence of a single. Intelligent, darkly evocative and beautifully produced, ‘Savage’ is a highlight of Gary’s latter-day career and an album that will figure high in any end of year list. 9