Released today in 1985: Your Fascination

Numa NU9

Numa NU9

Few pop stars faced as much vitriol in the music press as Gary Numan. For example, New Musical Express asked the following question in their review of an album of his from 1982: “What is it that makes Gary Numan so repulsive?” While this was not typical language, the rest of the review was representative of the prevailing attitude towards him and his music. The ‘rockist’ press (NME, Melody Maker) were slow to get on board with the synthesizer-led electronica he was associated with so his records often received bad write-ups, but even where he had a hit tune on his hands there was resentment evident in what was written about him indicating it wasn’t just his musical genre the journalists had a problem with: it was the very idea of Gary Numan himself. Their complaint seemed to boil down to this: of all the socially awkward, miserable teenagers who took themselves far too seriously, why should it be him who had half a dozen Top 10 singles and two #1 albums by the beginning of the 80s? (And by extension, one suspects, they were wondering why it wasn’t one of their own number, evidently believing they could do a better job themselves.)

Numan did himself few favours. The reputation he started out with – a rather morose loner writing songs in his bedroom – was bad enough. But then “his reputation among music critics atrophied amid accusations of anachronism,” to use the Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music’s strange semi-alliterative summation of his career at around the time of the release of Your Fascination. It was difficult to see how his reputation could atrophy given his already low standing with the critics, but it did seem to when he re-invented himself as a white dinner-suited Tory socialite who flew himself around in a private jet. These characterizations were grossly exaggerated but there were elements of truth in both and neither endeared him to the music press; all he needed to do was make a record with Stock Aitken Waterman to have broken every rule of making credible music in the 1980s. But back to that NME piece from ’82, where a list of his shortcomings was provided. “Is it his whining voice, his tawdry little fantasies, his ridiculous appearance, his endless stream of clichés, or is it some other, previously unconsidered factor?” the reviewer asked, trying to answer his own question about the why the artist was ‘repulsive’. Were these allegations fair?

● Well, his voice wasn’t the strongest: a bit nasal, rather thin, he more or less spoke some of his lyrics rather than sang them. But anyone’s vocal limitations would be shown up by his kind of synth-driven material.
● His ‘fantasies’ revolved around futurism and science fiction, his most successful album Relicas heavily influenced by the novels of Philip K Dick. On the cover of the album Numan portrayed one of the Machmen (sinister androids with cloned human skin), characters he had created for a novel of his own he never completed. Unoriginal, maybe, but not exactly tawdry.
● His appearance was governed initially at least by circumstance. Poor skin led to the make-up team at ‘Top Of The Pops’ plastering his face with white powder; bad teeth were the reason he didn’t smile during his first performance on the show. These everyday cosmetic concerns resulted in the dour robotic appearance he would be famed for early in his career. There was no excuse for his outfits though. He wore costumes, not clothes, and as the reviewer pointed out he had a “long-standing fascination with uniforms”. This certainly left him open for ridicule.
● As for cliché: pretentiousness would have been a more defensible charge to level against him, which was largely due to a lack of humour in his work. But another criticism was how influenced he was by electronica pioneers such as Kraftwerk, elements of whose audio and visual styles he borrowed; the NME review said he had a “policy of embodying all of David Bowie’s faults and none of his virtues”. But Numan was a pioneer in his own right, whether the contemporary critics accepted it or not. He didn’t invent techno-pop but he was there from the earliest days. When he famously upset the musicians’ union (by pointing out that he didn’t need an orchestra to back him on ‘Top Of The Pops’ because he could do it all himself), he was indicating the shape of the industry to come.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Aug. 2
1985
Gary NUMAN Your Fascination (Numa NU9)

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3 thoughts on “Released today in 1985: Your Fascination

  1. Thank you I loved reading this. You’ve summed him up accurately. I’d love to see that 1982 review in full (any NME or Melody Maker review of Numan is hilarious in it’s cruel way). I am a former Numan obsessive (I was naive then and took in by his clever manipulation) which is something I’m not proud of today and looking back it’s a mystery to how he made it to the top of the music business in 1979. I agree Numan is not the Godfather of anything as many acts were doing the electronic thing but like you said he got to be a mainstream act through this. I can’t blame the NME really as he deliberately provoked them by saying “I just want to be rich and famous”.

    The single “Your Fascination” flopped miserably (#47 I think) but the b-side “We Need It” was a good listen.

    Like

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