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Music / Gary Numan

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You know I hate to ask,
But are 'friends' electric?
Only mine's broke down,
And now I've no-one to love.
"Are 'Friends' Electric?"

Gary Anthony James Webb (born 8 March 1958), known professionally as Gary Numan is one of the founding fathers of Synth-Pop, best known, at least in the U.S., for his song "Cars".

He began his career under the band moniker Tubeway Army, their early Punk Rock singles recorded with the sole intent of becoming famous. He discovered a Moog synthesizer in the studio, and he was so impressed by the sound that he incorporated synths into his music with their first Self-Titled Album, slowly transitioning his style to that with which he did become famous. Their second album, Replicas, broke them into the mainstream in the U.K., aided by Gary's striking Robot or Spaceman Alter Ego; "Are 'Friends' Electric?" went to number one on the UK Singles Chart and was one of the first Synth-Pop singles on Top of the Pops, pissing off some other synth-based bands that were well established before him. He dropped the Tubeway Army name for his third album, The Pleasure Principle, which gave his sole U.S. hit "Cars".

Following his fourth album, Telekon, Gary began incorporating Jazz and accessible pop sounds into his albums, and his chart success waned. He hit his personal nadir with 1992's Machine and Soul, after which he dropped the feeble attempts at chart success and transitioned to a Dark Wave / Industrial Rock sound with Sacrifice, which persists to this day.

Numan also contributed the theme song to the 2014 video game The Evil Within, titled "Long Way Down."

Studio Discography

As Tubeway Army

  • 1978 - Tubeway Army
  • 1979 - Replicas

As Gary Numan

  • 1979 - The Pleasure Principle
  • 1980 - Telekon
  • 1981 - Dance
  • 1982 - I, Assassin
  • 1983 - Warriors
  • 1984 - Berserker
  • 1985 - The Fury
  • 1986 - Strange Charm
  • 1988 - Metal Rhythm
  • 1991 - Outland
  • 1992 - Machine and Soul
  • 1994 - Sacrifice
  • 1997 - Exile
  • 2000 - Pure
  • 2006 - Jagged
  • 2011 - Dead Son Rising
  • 2013 - Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)
  • 2017 - Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
  • 2021 - Intruder

"It's the only way to live in tropes":

  • After the End: Savage is set in a world where runaway climate change has led to the collapse of civilization.
  • The Cameo: In The Mighty Boosh
  • Car Song: Well, duh. It's his most famous song.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Got pegged as one early in his career for being perceived as standoffish and arrogant. He was later diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
  • Darker and Edgier: His career went through peaks and valleys of darkness. His original albums (especially Replicas) were dark before he went for much Lighter and Softer pop to try and court the market. After that failed he went darker again in the 90's with Nine Inch Nails-inspired Industrial and has been that way ever since.
  • Dark Wave: While some of his earlier work has hints of this, he went into it fully starting with Sacrifice.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first two Tubeway Army singles, "That's Too Bad" and "Bombers", are standard punk rock songs. Their following Self-Titled Album, while still rooted in punk, incorporated electronic influences that would go on to dominate Numan's subsequent work.
    • His first solo album, The Pleasure Principle, is the only one in his discography to not have any guitars.
  • Epic Rocking: Berserker, The Fury, Machine + Soul, Sacrifice and Exile were released in two forms: one with the original song lengths and one with extended mixes of pretty much every song. Several of these added up to 30 minutes to the run time of the record. Reissues of these albums put out in 1999 would contain the original songs, with only a couple of the extended mixes as bonus tracks.
  • God Is Evil: A recurring theme in his work since his Genre Shift to industrial.
  • I, Noun: I, Assassin
  • I Am the Band: Tubeway Army was Numan's vehicle well before he started to appear under his own name instead.
  • "I Am" Song: "I'm An Agent", as well as "I Am Dust".
  • Industrial: He dove into this genre starting with Sacrifice and hasn't looked back. Some of his heavier songs border on Industrial Metal.
  • New Sound Album:
    • Averted slightly, While his albums after Telekon were different from his original sound, they used the same 'style' of instrumentation and were all made by ex-Tubeway Army members of his backing band.
    • Replicas expanded on the electronic elements present in the previous album, beginning his synth-pop phase in earnest.
    • The Pleasure Principle removed guitars briefly from his work, but remains a powerful example of Synthpop.
    • Dance is an art rock album inspired by Japan and its lead singer, David Sylvian. The album is loaded with minimalist arrangements, jazz inflections, fretless bass lead lines and many guest performers.
    • Berserker is Numan's first jump into sampler-heavy synthpop that screams "EIGHTIES" to the average listener. Though previous albums I, Assassin and Warriors incorporated female backup singers and saxophone solos, this one kicked off the run from 1984-1992 where Numan was really trying to find commercial success by being a full-fledged pop artist. Later albums of this period were highly influenced by Prince and the production team of Jam & Lewis (famous for producing all of Janet Jackson's work.)
    • Sacrifice is a sharp turn into industrial rock, with Numan dropping all pretenses of being a pop star again and returning to brooding synthpop.
  • New Wave: A pioneer of the genre.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Dance is likely his least danceable album.
  • Post-Punk: Tubeway Army through Replicas, which still prominently featured guitar but incorporated the synths and robotic rhythms that he would become known for when moving to full Synth-Pop.
  • Punk Rock: His early singles. "Bombers" managed to stay in his oeuvre past the 70s while the rest faded into obscurity.
  • Questioning Title?: "Are 'Friends' Electric?"
  • Religion Rant Song: A good chunk of his work since the 90s is devoted to attacking religion and the idea of a benevolent God. As "Prayer for the Unborn" off of Pure puts it:
    So, I prayed
    But you weren't listening
    Making miracles?
  • Robot or Spaceman Alter Ego
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Pulled a real one in 2012, moving to California after having lived in Essex his whole life. Mostly inspired by widespread riots in 2011.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Synth-Pop
  • Take That, Critics!: "I Die, You Die" off of Telekon. The lyrics were aimed at what Numan saw as an increasingly vitriolic music press.
    They crawl out
    Of their holes for me
    And I die, you die
    Hear them laugh
    Watch them turn on me
    And I die, you die
    See my scars
    They call me such things
    Tear me, tear me, tear me