Gary Numan Exposure: The Best Of Gary Numan 1977-2002 Review

Compilation. Released 20 May 2002.  

BBC Review

It may not be everyone's cup of motor oil, but such dogged individuality deserves to...

Chris Jones 2002

What a long strange trip it's been for the world's favourite android. For a brief span the world belonged to Gary Numan. Then, as the alienated electronic wastelands of Numanoid imagination fell from favour, Gary found himself floundering with little more than a pilot's license and a small but fiercely loyal fan base to support him. Nowadays the hard times are well and truly over and he has a much larger and still intensely loyal legion of metal/goth/industrial fans. What's more he can now count among them such credible luminaries as Beck, Marilyn Manson, Liam Howlett and Damon Albarn and his back catalogue (in sample form) is now helping other acts such as Basement Jaxx, Armand Van Helden and the Sugababes achieve their own chart goals. Let's face it, Electroclash and bootleg culture is about as hip as you can get in 2002. Who'd have thought it?

It is, however, important to note that this new found credibility is not necessarily the most important thing on Gary's mind. Many times he has stated his desire to move on, and it's the ability to continue creating music that speaks to a newer, younger audience that's paramount. At least half of this collection does exactly that. If ever there was a career of two halves this is it, though both have their merits.

Firstly this is a 'best of' not a hits collection and being assembled by a fan of Numan's it gives a more balanced view than the usual record company bandwagon-jumping. Tracks are not chronological but sequenced thoughtfully to allow a sense of Numan the complete artist and while new layers of technology and sophistication now layer his compositions there emerges an odd continuity. Admittedly lyrics have become more assured with experience; compare the bleak sci fi musings of "Are 'Friends' Electric?" or "Remember, I Was Vapour" with the darker and quasi-religious strain running through "My Jesus" and "Dominion Day". Yet the gradual reinvention of Numan as industrial father-figure to Trent Reznor and his ilk has done nothing to remove the essential Numanoid quality of his best work. Instead, he's merely removed the more derivative strains of his early work ("Complex" is pure Eno, while ""She's Got Claws", one of the few examples of Gary in decline, is akin to Japan meeting Bowie in a new romantic karaoke bar) and arrived at a musical landscape that is, most assuredly, 100 percent Numan.

Despite his adoption by Kerrang! readers, Gary's music still retains a canny eye for a brooding synth riff ("Pure") and the voice has lost its young plaintive edge to become a much more emotive tool. Witness the improved reworkings of "My Shadow In Vain" and "Everyday I Die". With a new album due next year, this new, improved model of Numan seems intent on building even further on his second coming and paying no lip service whatsoever to paltry nostalgia. It may not be everyone's cup of motor oil, but such dogged individuality deserves to prosper long into the 21st century.

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