The Book of Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb, the son of a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, was given a guitar at the age of 15. He immediately started composing his own songs, and soon formed Tubeway Army, a trio with his uncle on the drums. He picked "Numan" as his surname after seeing an ad in the yellow pages.

After recording a string of singles (collected and released as The Plan several years later), Tubeway Army put out their debut album in 1978. It's my personal favorite and a very strange record, both aggressive and alienated, falling somewhere between punk and new wave and hardly using any synthesizers. It got little attention. But shortly after, he released the singles for "Down in The Park" and "Are 'Friends' Electric", which both blew up in the U.K:

The Replicas LP was released in the Summer of 1979, and became the #1 album. It's an ambitious work with a unique style, basing many of its futuristic lyrics on Numan's own science fiction stories he'd been writing since he was an adolescent. The atmospheric "Down In The Park", for instance, could almost be a love song until you pay attention to the words; it describes political prisoners being slaughtered by machines in a park, while the elite gather in overlooking restaurants to view the proceedings as entertainment.

Amazingly, The Pleasure Principle album was recorded in a fortnight and released a few months after Replicas, making for three full-length studio LP's written, recorded, and marketed in one year's time. Starting with this record he dropped the Tubeway Army moniker and released it under his own (fake) name. "Cars" hit #1 in the UK and broke the top ten in the states, leading to this freaky "Saturday Night Live" performance:

The Songs on Pleasure Principal are very mechanical and abrasive, and a little too similar to each other (there are no guitars on the album, but the synths were fed through guitar distortion to sound as buzzy as possible). And yet, Numan's maturity in his songwriting is impressive for a 21-year old. "Cars" and "Complex" get the most play, but check out this promo video for the cold-hearted, gut-punching "Metal":

His fourth proper LP Telekon and its accompanying tour of 1980 was a huge hit (and years later he said it was his favorite of the early records), but his sound started getting conventional and I'd prefer to gloss over that one. Likewise for the 50 or so albums he's put out since then. Quickly forgotten in the states after "Cars", Numan has kept plugging away in the UK with continued moderate success, thanks to his dedicated fans (called "numanoids").

He always said he would never do the nostalgia thing, but in 2006 he performed Telekon in a series of sold out shows in the UK, and last year he did the same with Replicas. Hopefully he'll start doing similar shows in the states.

Extra weirdness: a few years ago he married the president of his fan club. They already have three children, named Raven, Persia, and Echo.

And revisit the Tubeway Army playlist, which focuses on his first two albums, the Plan collection, and related b-sides.


pupating said...

is that Stexe's gmail visage?

stexe said...

I forgot all about that. A few years ago, a friend who's known me since high school sent me that picture along with the message "here's your new gmail picture" so I put it up. (it's the cover portrait from "telekon".)

pupating said...

I knew it!