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Gary Numan

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Gary Numan (b. Gary Webb, March 8, 1958) is a British singer, songwriter and electropop pioneer.

Contents

Career

Numan rose to prominence at the tail end of the 1970s, initially recording under the band name Tubeway Army. After recording an album's worth of punky demos, he was signed by Beggars Banquet in 1978. A self-titled, punk-orientated album later that same year sold few copies but introduced Numan's fascination with dystopian science fiction and, more importantly, synthesisers. Almost from nowhere, Tubeway Army reached number one in 1979 with the electropop single "Are 'Friends' Electric?", the parent album Replicas simultaneously climbing to number one in the album charts.

A few months later he repeated the feat with "Cars", which became a top ten hit in America as well, and the 1979 album The Pleasure Principle, both released under Numan's own, assumed, name, which he had plucked from an advert in the "Yellow Pages". Topping both single and album charts simultaneously was noteworthy enough; doing so twice in the space of six months was astonishing. A sell-out tour followed. The Pleasure Principle was a rock album with no guitars whatsoever; instead, Numan used synthesisers fed through guitar effects pedals to achieve a phased, heavy metal tone. Self-produced in a fortnight for very little money, The Pleasure Principle sounded like nothing else, and remains Numan's most highly regarded effort today.

Numan wore costumes and make-up and openly proclaimed his influences: David Bowie, Marc Bolan and contemporary electronic acts such as Ultravox and The Human League. In interviews he came across as aloof, pretentious and mildly obnoxious, attributes which would latterly be assigned to a mild form of Asperger's Syndrome. Numan's great popularity and unabashed love of wealth alienated critics and even some fellow musicians; Yes recorded a sardonic song about him, "Man in a White Car," for their 1980 album Drama, a reaction to his habit of tearing around London in the sports car given him by Beggars Banquet.

Numan bewildered the press. He was a driven, creative, troubled 21-year-old loner who still lived with his parents. He was not punk. He was not quite New Romantic either, and retrospectives of the period tended to ignore him and his influence. Yet during this period, Numan generated an army of fans calling themselves Numanoids, enough of whom would remain loyal to carry him through the latter half of the 1980s, when his fortunes began precipitously to fall.

1980s

In 1980 Numan again topped the album charts with Telekon, although the concurrent single "We Are Glass" only reached number five. By this time Numan was sick of the pressures of fame, and announced his "retirement" from touring with a series of expensive, sell-out concerts at Wembley Arena. The decision to retire would be short-lived, but would have a fateful effect on his career, as Numan found the fickle pop audience quickly turned their attention to other artists.

Numan had an embarrassing episode in 1981 relating to his hobby of flying. Attempting a round-the-world flight, Numan had to make a forced landing (reported in the press as an outright crash) in India, where he found himself under arrest, suspected of smuggling and espionage. During the late 1980s he had his life threatened on several occasions by a mysterious stalker.

Turning his back on electropop, Numan experimented instead with jazz, funk and lightweight pop. His career quickly nosedived, eclipsed initially by Adam Ant, and later by Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Depeche Mode. He spent the decade in a creative malaise, trying to recapture his former chart glory with undistinguished albums stylistically derivative of artists like Robert Palmer and Prince. Each album saw a new "image", none of which captured the public's imagination to nearly the same extent as the lonely android of the late 1970s. His penchant for sharp suits and hats seemed faintly ridiculous, while his later adoption of shell-suits and mirrored shades seemed opportunistic. Numan was no longer a pioneer but a follower. Collaborations with Bill Sharpe of Shakatak helped little, though one single the duo recorded, "Change Your Mind", did see chart action. His own record label, Numa, had been launched in a flurry of idealistic excitement, but a lack of radio play and sales drained away the fortune he had amassed in the late 1970s. By the mid 1990s he was living in a small semi-detached house, driving a cheap hatchback Rover, pondering his future.

1990s

Even Numan considers his 1992 Machine & Soul, a misguided attempt at a purely commercial release recorded solely to pay off debts, a career low point. The music was uninspired and the album sold only a few thousand copies. By 1994, Numan decided to stop attempting to crack the pop market and concentrate instead on exploring more personal interests, including his vocal atheism. His future wife Gemma encouraged him to strip away the influences of the previous years. Numan re-evaluated his career and went in a harsher, more industrial direction with his songwriting on the album Sacrifice; for the first time, he played almost all the instruments himself. The move was well-received, as Numan's harder and darker sound emerged just as Numan-influenced bands like Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana were enjoying their first rush of fame. Numan's next two albums Exile (1997) and Pure (2000) restored Numan's critical reputation; Numan even toured the U.S. in support of Exile, his first stateside concerts since the early 1980s.

Resurrection of his career

After years of ridicule in the press, Numan found himself an artist respected by his peers, with such musicians as Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters), Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) and Marilyn Manson proclaiming his work an influence and recording cover versions of old Numan hits. The band Basement Jaxx had a huge hit in 2002 with "Where's Your Head At?", which relied on a sample of Numan's "M.E." - from The Pleasure Principle - for its hook. The band Fear Factory produced a cover of "Cars" featuring a guest appearance by Numan. "Cars" remains Numan's most enduring song; it was a hit again in 1987 and 1996, in the latter case thanks to an appearance in an advert for Carling.

In 2003, Numan enjoyed chart success once again with the single "Crazier," which went into the UK charts at #14. The remix album Hybrid featured reworkings of older songs in a more contemporary metal/industrial/aggro style. In 2004 Numan took control of his own business affairs again, launching the label Mortal Records and releasing a series of live DVDs as a precursor to his next studio album, Jagged Halo.

Personal life

Numan married Gemma O'Neil, a clinician and a member of his own fan club. She diagnosed him as having Asperger's syndrome. Her hobbies include plastic surgery and making candles. She has discussed this, and how the couple met, in at least one UK women's magazine. In 2003, the couple had their first child, Raven. Numan has also always been extremely close to his parents; his fan club and website shop have been family businesses which they have helped run.

As an amusing footnote, Gary Numan is 13 days older than Gary Oldman.

Discography

Not including numerous compilations, many of them unauthorized

  • 1978 The Plan (compilation of early singles)
  • 1978 Tubeway Army (also known as The Blue Album)
  • 1979 Replicas
  • 1979 The Pleasure Principle
  • 1980 Telekon
  • 1980 Living Ornaments '79-'80 (live recording)
  • 1981 Dance
  • 1982 I, Assassin
  • 1983 Warriors
  • 1984 Berserker (first album on self-owned Numa label)
  • 1984 Live — White Noise
  • 1985 The Fury
  • 1986 Strange Charm
  • 1987 Exhibition (retrospective compilation from Beggars Banquet days)
  • 1987 Ghost (live recording)
  • 1988 Metal Rhythm (released in a re-sequenced edition in the US as New Anger)
  • 1989 The Skin Mechanic (live recording)
  • 1989 Automatic (collaboration with Bill Sharpe under the moniker "Sharpe + Numan")
  • 1991 Outland
  • 1992 Machine + Soul
  • 1994 Dream Corrosion (live recording)
  • 1994 Sacrifice (demo)
  • 1995 Dark Light (live recording)
  • 1997 Dawn (US reissue of Sacrifice; same track listing)
  • 1997 Exile
  • 2000 Pure
  • 2003 Scarred (live recording)
  • 2003 Hybrid (remix project featuring Curve, Alan Moulder, Rico and Flood; two new songs including single "Crazier")
  • 2005 Jagged Halo

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