Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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 Beggar's 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 classic electronic 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 impressive enough; doing so twice in the space of six months was astonishing. A sell-out tour followed. Numan had clearly hit a nerve. Science fiction was big business in the UK 1979, not just because of Star Wars, but also because of the popular Blake's 7 and Doctor Who television series. 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 impressive today.
Numan wore heavy make-up and was clearly inspired – self-admittedly so – by David Bowie, Marc Bolan and contemporary electronic acts such as Ultravox! and The Human League, both in their pre-fame incarnations. 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, whilst his great popularity and unashamed love of money did not endear him to the press, who could not find anything to write about him in any case. Gary Numan 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 tend to ignore him and his influence, as he was not easily categorised. The music which brought him fame was groove-based, riff-based music performed with synthesisers, Numan's distinctively reedy, cockney voice delivering lyrics which seemed to have been read from the pages of Philip K. Dick. With regard to lyrical content, William S. Burroughs also provided a huge influence. From nowhere Numan generated an army of instant fans, a clone army of Numanoids who would remain loyal for years afterwards, bleak years which would see Numan increasingly use saxophones and female backing vocals.
In 1980 Numan again topped the album charts with 'Telekon ', although the concurrent single 'We Are Glass ' only reached number four. 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. Subsequently Numan turned his back on electronic music, experimenting instead with jazz, funk and lightweight pop. Numan's career quickly nosedived, eclipsed initially by Adam Ant, and later by such acts as 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 electronic space cadet of the late 1970s. His penchant for sharp suits and hats seemed faintly ridiculous, whilst his later adoption of shell-suits and mirrored shades seemed opportunistic. Collaborations with Bill Sharpe of Shakatak did not help his image. 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.
During the late 1980s Numan had his life threatened on several occasions by a mysterious stalker.
Career low point
Numan considered his 1992 'Machine & Soul ' 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 instead to concentrate on exploring his personal fascination with loud noises - and a surprising, dark interest in theology. He re-evaluated his career and went in a harsher, more industrial direction with his songwriting on the album Sacrifice. His next two albums Exile (1997) and Pure (2000) restored Numan's critical reputation.
Resurrection of his career
After years of ridicule in the press, he 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 and endearing 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.
Numan married Gemma, 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, he and his wife Gemma had their first child, Raven.
Numan is also known for his love of flying, and has owned several aircraft, in one of which he famously crashed in 1981, albeit as a passenger, a fact that is rarely remembered. This came shortly after attempting a round-the-world jaunt during which he was briefly imprisoned in India on suspicion of spying.
As an amusing footnote, Gary Numan is 13 days older than Gary Oldman.
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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