While I would describe myself as a Gary Numan fan, I am a fair-weather one at best. Having been introduced to him as a Kerrang-reading teenager through Fear Factory’s cover of ‘Cars’, I developed a pretty solid familiarity with his Tubeway Army and early solo work. However, while he has continued to release records in the interim, I haven’t really kept up to speed with them. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Intruder, his twenty-first album.
If you’re hoping for the detached, icy electropop of ‘Cars’, ‘Down in the Park’, or the Sugababes-sampled ‘Are Friends Electric?’, then you won’t find what you’re looking for here. But if you turn the record off, you will be missing out. Evoking the sounds of both musical contemporaries of his and artists that he has clearly influenced, the music on display here skirts the edges of industrial, goth and synthpop, crafting a dense and claustrophobic musical palette that veers between epic and deeply intimate in its scope.
The synths, for the most part, provide texture and ambience rather clearly defined melodies. They are accompanied by processed, electronic drum sounds that fill the space in these tracks and lend the whole thing a haunting atmosphere. Gurgles, wails, and various industrial noises also contribute to this. Numan’s vocal delivery, while not utterly devoid of melody, is impassioned and emotive, rather than hung on catchy tunes.
That said, there are moments where snatches of melody do break through, like the synth lead on ‘I am screaming’ and the plaintive piano melody on ‘A Black Sun’. They are all the more beautiful for their contrast with their surroundings.
This contrast between beauty and dread, so wonderfully evoked by the music, is at the heart the album’s lyrical concerns. Concept album is a much-maligned two-word phrase, calling to mind Rick Wakeman’s various vanity projects, but there is a clear central narrative conceit tying this record together: the death of our planet, and the role of humans in it. Whether singing from the perspective of humans, or the planet itself (as on ‘Intruder’) his lyrics are full of rhetorical questions, as though he can’t believe what we have done to this beautiful world we inherited. On ‘Intruder’ he asks, ‘Don’t you wish you had just listened more?’ while exploring how humans ignored the signs of ecological collapse, while on ‘And it breaks again’ he asks, in the ruins of the planet, ‘is this all life is?’.
The horror at what has become of the planet is lent extra weight by how he contrasts this with how the planet was before our interventions. On ‘The Chosen’, he asks ‘how could you turn your blue sky grey?’, the image of colour sapped from the sky doing some poetic heavy lifting in reflecting how we have stripped beauty and life from this planet with our actions. When on ‘A Black Sun’ he sings about how ‘When I was a child / the world was waiting and called for me’, the destruction of this place of wonder, hope and opportunity is rendered all the more painful.
‘The End of Dragons’ focuses less on the destruction, and more on how we cope with its after effects. He explores the role of memory with ambivalence, recognising its powerful function as a device to sustain us during these dark times, whilst recognising that reminding ourselves of the better times before is an ultimately destructive exercise which will ‘break your heart’.
And yet, this is not a completely hopeless album. ‘Now and Forever’ doesn’t seek to soften the pill, to pretend that things aren’t so bad, but it does offer a sense of hope not seen elsewhere. When he sings ‘this is my life to give’ there is a sense of reclaimed agency lacking elsewhere on the record, and the closing claim that he will ‘wait here for you / Forever’ is lent strength by the soaring synth strings that underpin its delivery. Even at our lowest point, amid the destruction we have wrought, he recognises our capacity for love and survival.
This isn’t a cheery listen, but it is a rewarding one. It’s an evocative, emotional response to the world Numan sees around himself. Although it’s not as immediate as some of his more well-known work, it’s well worth spending your time with.
Words by Will Collins
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