Gary Numan & Tubeway Army - Replicas Redux: Expanded 2008 Tour Edition

Watershed synth pop/post punk album gets reissue treatment

In 1979 Gary Numan was just preparing himself to step, somewhat
nervously, out from behind the protective mask of being a band
member and into the centre-stage spotlight. Tubeway Army’s first self-titled
album still showed traces of Bowie adoration and a hangover
from the punky demos that got him his Beggars Banquet deal, but
Replicas was to be the first of three consecutive and peerless records.
Taking his queues musically from Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, David Bowie
and the then unknown Ultravox!, and lyrically from the paranoid and
hallucinatory writings of Philip K Dick and William Burroughs, Numan’s
was a horrific world view perhaps only matched by Joy Division. The
over-arching theme of the album is that of a totalitarian near future
roamed by robot prostitutes called “friends”, population control
through enforced homosexuality and thought policing by trench coat
wearing “agents”.

Of course, all of this alienation and “lonely android” schtick takes
on a more melancholy tone when you take into account Numan’s
recently diagnosed status as an Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer. For
example, you don’t have to look too closely at the lyrics to Are
“Friends” Electric? to see that it contains as many references to an
unhappy love affair as it does to more fantastical concerns.
Whatever it’s about, it is arguably the best synth-pop track ever
recorded and certainly one of the weirdest No 1 singles. The
harshness of the angular guitar sound, married to the oddly moving
electronics, make the perfect backing for Numan’s strangely soulful
croon. Elsewhere, John Peel favourite Down In The Park is probably
the most gothic cut Numan ever recorded, with mordant, string-like
keyboards and echoing drums. There are the last vestiges of the
earlier, punkier Numan on tracks such as You Are In My Vision, but
there are also the seeds of the direction that he would take later in
the year with his first solo album The Pleasure Principle. This is most
evident on the instrumental, guitarless tunes When The Machines
Rock and I Nearly Married A Human. Deceptively simple, icicle-fragile
high-end synth lines sit neatly on top of opiated and shimmering
keyboards. It was a formula that would serve him well on singles
such as Cars and We Are Glass.

The self-deprecating line that Numan has taken in the past is that
he just happened to find a Moog set up in the practise room and it
was already set to the booming imperial synth tones that we associate
with him. The second disc of demos and outtakes here tells a different
story, however, and show someone who, even at the beginning, was
an obsessive engineer. Best of all is the inclusion of relatively rare
outtake We Have A Technical, one of the great “lost” Numan tracks,
sounding like a (relatively) upbeat sister to Are “Friends” Electric?
(curious parties should seek out the cover released by Damon Albarn
and Weezer’s Matt Sharp). Let’s hope that The Pleasure Principle gets
the same lavish treatment soon.

5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars

Beggars Banquet | BBQCD 2057 (2-CD)

Reviewed by John Doran
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