With Gary Numan revisiting the classic albums that gave him his greatest successes in tours focusing on “the trinity” of albums from The Machine era of his career, Gary Numan’s fans have joined in a celebration of his music from those albums—recording their own versions of those songs as covers. These recordings have been scattered around the web posted on fan and artist pages, but now have been pulled together completely canvassing his first two chart-topping albums, both released in 1979.
Replicas revolutionized electronic music, creating an entire new genre of pop: the New Romantics. It is fitting that the set begin with Reload, whose Brian Applegate was the first individual artist to record a full album of Numan covers with his Tubeway Navy of 1997. Focused exclusively on Gary’s earliest output, Reload’s music is intense and impactful, by his own admission “killing the cliches of New Wave by applying them with single-minded, straight-faced, veiny-necked fanaticism.”
Information Society is a name that should be familiar to fans of electronic music. Moving from synthpop to the full-bore industrial album Don’t Be Afraid of 1997 from which this was taken, Gary’s breakthrough single is heralded here with air-raid siren synths and a bottom-heavy driving drum riff. InSoc’s sole member, Kurt Harland, has said “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is his favorite song—not favorite Gary Numan song, but favorite song by anybody—and he pays it here its due respect.
George Carnival is a name that deserves to be familiar to Numan fans, having made multiple appearances headlining the “Numania” Numan Night shows through the years with a varying band lineup. Using his current lineup with Ricardo Cocozza and J.P. Phee, the relatively low-key “The Machman” here gets an energetic and driven treatment from George Carnival’s self-described neo-futurism.
The first Numan tribute album was 1995’s Ghost Of A White Face Clown from which is taken this cover of “Praying To The Aliens” by Einar Ask & The Same. A truly experimental rendition of an experimental song, the adaptation heightens the atmospherics and alienness of the original.
Gary has described “Down In The Park” as his favorite of his own songs, and here it is given the appropriate full-on goth treatment by Van Richter recording artist Girls Under Glass, this version appearing on their 1999 best-of collection fittingly titled Nightmares.
Picking the tempo up again Danger O.D. bounce through “You Are In My Vision” with a bright and quirky take fronted by vocals reminiscent of early Depeche Mode Dave Gahan.
The Borg were also early entrants in the Numan cover universe, with their Numania eps 1 (1993) and 2 (2000). The “Replicas” title track here replaces the stuttering rhythm of the original with an out-and-out dance groove, the menace of the song brought forward by dragon-growl vocals.
“It Must Have Been Years” takes us out of the sung portion of Replicas with a groovy, jumping rendering by Tubeway Andy McHaffie, member of the Boys Like Us, the LGBT Gary Numan fan collective—here stepping out solo from his “queercore” band Mouthfull.
Gary Numan ended his visionary Replicas album with two back-to-back instrumentals, as if to underscore how that seminal album was moving us beyond the conventions of pop to something grander. The first of these, the self-referential “When The Machines Rock,” has the tripping rhythm of the original transformed by FabRik here into a tumbling dance/trance.
Martin Harper’s MomoHaus has recorded an album of lush, ethereal covers of Gary’s music titled Dark Desire, from which his epic adaptation of “I Nearly Married A Human” is taken. On a wave of sound from church-organ keyboards to clanging-chimes percussion, we are sent out of the Replicas album riding an ambient, swirling vortex.
The Pleasure Principle was a truly radical album in pop history. Gary’s most successful album, it topped the pop charts after being recorded entirely without guitars—despite the electric guitar having been the backbone of rock music, the definitional instrument of rock ‘n roll. Gary made that decision deliberately, overthrowing the convention, proving definitively a synthesizer could power a sound just as forcefully—dragging pop music into the future he had foreseen. As if picking up exactly where his last album left off, Gary opened up with another instrumental, the anthemic “Airlane.” RoboScott claims he can’t play keyboards, that he hasn’t the talent, but his soaring rendition here that takes the album aloft on its wings belies his self-deprecation.
The opening “song” is the equally iconic “Metal”—which stands alongside Gary’s more famous singles in his fans’ estimation. Here it is given its deserved steely muscle by DeathBoy, who prefer to call what they perform “future punk”—a term that would not have been unworthy of Gary himself.
Gary chose as one of his more unlikely singles the somber “Complex,” which industrial synthpop artist Flux Oersted here take to even deeper depths of paranoia and alienation, replacing the warmer synths of Gary’s original with harsher electronics, claustrophobically burying the distorted vocals inside the mix.
“Films” has been so heavily sampled by hip-hop artists for its powerhouse breakbeat it has earned the stature of an unofficial single. Here that signature beat is given over to full-throated industrial clang by “melodic industrial ambient new wave” artists Electronic Dream Factory.
“M.E.” was a nightmare vision of the machines inexhorably taking over from the frailer humans, growing sentient and destroying us to the last. Sensien have taken that horror one step further by giving the vocals a reverberating, mechanized edge in this version otherwise faithful to the strength and fullness of the original.
“Tracks” is arguably one of Gary’s most grand and stirring songs. Before reviving this album in its entirety for a classic tour, Gary revisited this song to close out what is considered the best of his innumerable live albums, the recent Scarred. Here the dramatic emotionality of the song rides the unquestionably lovely vocal performance by FabRik, whose voice evokes comparison to David Bowie for its beauty and theatricality.
The regimented symmetry of “Observer” gets taken to its logical evolutionary descent into dancefloor-ready techno, complete with computerized voice from The Manitou’s Joshua Blanc, who has set as his mission “to glorify the magnificent sounds of analogue synthesis.” With this track he has succeeded.
Jon Bunting created the Gary fan site White Stingray and recorded this take on “Conversation” as something of an experiment. Taking the almost a capella vocal performance included as a bonus to the live album Living Ornaments 81, Jon here offers a reimagining of the track that nonetheless retains the feel of the original.
We come inevitably to The Song. “Cars” has been covered far more than any other Numan composition, so unsurprisingly. Cruising past this congested highway of covers, this rendition by Athens, Georgia, goth artists The Girl Pool, is truly distinctive and uniquely worthy of fan attention. When so repeatedly covering artists aim squarely for auditory impact, The Girl Pool slows their version down, relaxes the tone, and lets the arrangement envelop and embrace the listener. But the real fireworks of the performance are the vocals, with a lilting croon that shows us the romance in new romanticism.
We close out the album with “Engineers,” which has too often been called the weakest song on The Pleasure Principle. As a nod to the Numan tribute albums that have taken the “remix” approach to his music—using his original vocal and some of the song elements combined with newly programmed additions—the dj here has given this song a driving, marching rhythm and arrangement, compelling us to take to the dancefloor and finally revealing the power of this song that too many fans have missed. For this act of sonic salvation we owe a debt of thanks to a dj whose identity has been lost to the anonimity of the web.
And here they are: a replication of Gary Numan’s empire of light, a fan salute to the two albums Gary has chosen to release as triple-disc sets. Where Gary has given with those sets a gift to his fans of demo approximations of what the albums would become, the fans with this set have given a gift back of reimaginations of how those albums could be heard. Now Replicas and The Pleasure Principle take their places in the pop pantheon alongside Carole King’s Tapestry and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as albums whose every song is strong enough that musicians have covered them to the last. Beyond simply paying tribute to the artist, these albums are deserving of recognition for their own unique artistic statement.
Finally, a note about the cover art. What better way to visually represent a fan cover project than with fan renderings of Gary’s imagery for those albums. Dustin Mothersbaugh’s elegant black and white drawing conveys the simplicity of the original musical arrangements on Replicas. At the same time, the romanticization of his eyes and lips and hair call up the eroticization of the male appearance that came to define the New Romantic style as originated by Gary on Replicas.
Ian Welch has adapted the poetic imagery of the original cover design for The Pleasure Principle to fit Gary’s contemporary appearance—paralleling Gary’s own stepping back into that album’s frame with his current/classic tour. The intriguing distortions in shape allude to how the musical artists on this project have drawn the songs out to fit the contours of their own outlining.
These images were chosen for this project to invite you into the artistry of these albums before they’ve even begun. Now it is your turn to take them in and hear them with your own imagination and understanding.
The alarm has rung. We are your voice.
Benjamin Iglar-Mobley, 2010