Monday, May 26, 2014

Sci Fi Genre Gems: Replicas (1979 New Wave Album by Gary Numan)

What Is It?  This new wave album came out in 1979 before “Cars”--from The Pleasure Principle--would skyrocket Gary Numan into one-hit-wonder fame.  Replicas offered a collection of songs inspired by a set of inter-connected short stories he had been writing about a future dystopia.  The very Terminator-like setting he established (five years before the James Cameron movie came out) depicts a nightmarish world where humanity is in decay and people have allowed the machines to take control to sort out the mess. But the machines decide that the root of the problem is humanity itself, and set out to slowly rid the planet of their presence.

Why It Stands Out: The album presents a dark and moody set of synth-pop songs in a science fiction setting that deal with themes of alienation, isolation, paranoia, and disillusionment.  And it’s a pretty enjoyable bit of New Wave sci fi music to boot.

The Skinny:  Gary Numan may be known the world over for his song “Cars”, but he is definitely more than a one-trick-pony.  He was an early pioneer of synthesizer music and the New Wave movement and then continued to reinvent himself in the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s and has a new album out this week (which I highly recommend that you check out, and you can read by full review of it at this link).  Replicas is where he developed the sound he would become famous for (his previous work was more guitar-heavy with hints of punk) and he had considerable chart success in his home country of the UK with the album.  Often dismissed by many as “android rock”, the fact is that his early music had a deep humanness beneath its cool, mechanical trappings.  Alienation, isolation, and loneliness play an important part of his early songs (and became a running motif throughout his career) and his explorations into those dark territories definitely made this more than a collection of throwaway synth-pop songs.  Plus, the sci fi setting will definitely be of interest to genre fans, especially with its similarities to the future world we would later see in the Terminator movies.  The sci fi elements aren’t always as pronounced in the songs, but they are there for those who want to dig for them.  This album contains two songs that some may recognize: “Are Friends Electric?” and “Down in the Park” (the latter has been covered by many groups, most notable The Foo Fighters and Marilyn Manson).  For those not familiar with Numan’s larger catalog, Replicas is very much in the vein of the “Cars” sound and he would continue with this style for one more album after The Pleasure Principle (Telekon) before starting to branch out with his sound.  All three of these albums are worth checking out (as is much of his discography), and sci fi fans may want to start with Replicas because of its strong genre themes or go straight to his later dark, industrial albums (which began with 1994's Sacrifice) because these could act as soundtracks to genre films.

Did You Know:  Gary Numan discovered his trademark synthesizer sound by accident.  His early work with the Tubeway Army was more guitar-driven quasi-punk.  But he was looking for a different direction because he didn’t feel this sound fully expressed the musical vision he was trying to achieve.  Then--according to his autobiography Praying to the Aliens--one day he walked into the studio and found the previous group had left a mini-moog synthesizer behind.  He played one note on it and the way it had been tuned immediately struck a cord with him.  He commented that “if it had been pre-set on a horrible, tinny, bleep sound I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought”.  So that was a pivotal moment in music history and a different setting on that synthesizer could have altered his career direction and the New Wave movement as well!

Buy Replicas and Other Gary Numan Albums on CD and MP3 from

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