ALMOST four decades after electronic music pioneer Gary Numan mesmerised the world with his iconic No 1 hits Cars and Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, he is on tour with his new album and comes to the Brighton Dome on October 16.
Savage: Songs From A Broken World is his 22nd album, released in September, just after he was awarded the Inspiration Award for songwriting and composition at the Ivor Novellos and four years after his album Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) earned him his highest chart-placing in 20 years.
The pop legend, who lived in East Sussex with his family until 2012, says the album has a narrative that’s set in an apocalyptic, post-global warming Earth in the not-too-distant future. There is no technology left and most of the planet has turned to a desolate desert wasteland. Food is scarce, water even more so and human kindness and decency are just a dim and distant memory. Western and Eastern cultures have merged, more because of the need to simply survive than any feelings of greater tolerance or understanding. It’s a harsh, savage environment, as are the survivors who still roam across it.
“The songs are about the things that people do in such a harsh and terrifying environment,” he explains. “It’s about a desperate need to survive and they do awful things in order to do so, and some are haunted by what they’ve done. That desire to be forgiven, along with some discovered remnants of an old religious book, ultimately encourages religion to resurface, and it really goes downhill from there.”
The album’s first single, My Name Is Ruin, is a menacing industrial march in which the unrelenting mechanized intensity is countered by the humanity of its sweet, swirling backing vocals which exude a palpable Egyptian influence. Filmed in the desolate deserts of southern California, it features a special guest: Gary’s 11-year-old daughter Persia, who also contributes vocals to the track. With the foreboding setting and temperatures reaching 48ºC during the shoot, the location was the perfect backdrop for an album that examines a world struggling for survival after the devastation of global warming.
The album was produced by long-term collaborator Ade Fenton, with recording sessions split between Gary’s own studio in LA and in the UK. And during the project, Gary set up a Pledge Music campaign that lets fans see how an album was put together from the first note to the finished shrink wrapped package.
An artist who continues to push both himself and his audience almost four decades after presenting his initial sonic prototype, Gary moved to the San Fernando Valley in LA in 2012 with his wife Gemma and their three daughters, Raven, Persia and Echo. His music obsession began when his mother bought him his first acoustic guitar at the age of five, kickstarting his fascination with sound in particular.
“I had tiny little hands but I learnt a few chords and could strum very badly,” he recalls in an interview with Eve Barlow. Leaving school with no qualifications (he later discovered he had Asperger’s), he started a punk outfit called Tubeway Army and it was during the recording of their debut album that Gary discovered a Moog synthesizer in the control room and started experimenting with it. He turned all their punk songs that he had written into pseudo-electronic numbers and Are ‘Friends’ Electric? went to No 1. Then came the whirlwind: three No 1 albums, two world tours, another No 1 hit with Cars. All within a year.
“It came good so quickly but I didn’t feel vindicated by it. I was absolutely trampled by the speed of it,” Gary tells Eve Barlow. “It was like standing in front of a fast moving train. I was on my own, same as now, but with no experience whatsoever. I had no meaningful guidance. I’d only ever done a handful of shows in tiny little clubs. All of a sudden you’re No 1, the press are comparing you to these megastar legends and you’ve only been there for what felt like two minutes. I was overwhelmed, beaten up. I felt like I was fighting for my life.”
His hits became the soundtrack for a generation and influenced artists across genres and eras, from Depeche Mode, Prince and Nine Inch Nails to Beck, Damon Albarn and Marilyn Manson. Even Kanye West owes him a debt and David Bowie once credited him with “writing two of the finest songs” in British music.
“I’m not one for self-praise but I am very proud of the fact that as I’ve got to the more precarious latter part of my career the music’s got progressively darker and even less radio friendly,” Gary tells Eve Barlow. “I’ve done the opposite of playing it safe.”
Savage: Songs From A Broken World by Gary Numan is out now. My Name Is Ruin is available as an instant download for fans who pre-order the album.
As part of a short run of UK dates before hitting the road for a major European tour, Gary Numan is at the Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, Church Street, Brighton, at 7pm on Monday October 16. Phone 01273 709709 or visit brightondome.org.