Random – Review


A Gary Numan Tribute (Beggars Banquet)
by Nik Rainey

I’ve long maintained that Gary Numan came into prominence a couple years too early. (Actually, I just thought of it this second, but gimme a break, it ain’t easy coming up with arresting opening statements for these things.) Remember the vinyl-purist party line at the first blush of the CD revolution – that the early methods of digitizing music rendered it sterile, artificial, bereft of life? Well, that may have been damaging to Dire Straits or Springsteen or whatever “real” music fascists were calling godhead at the time, but in Numan’s case, it woulda been an absolute boon. Ask Joe or Joanne Public in ’80 or so to describe New Wave and the image they’d conjure’d probably resemble Gazza – robotic, emotionless, alien,weird. Yep, he was an odd one all right, and like strange creatures of indistinct origin often do, he became enormously successful because of it. But the carnival midway of pop culture hasta rotate its freaks every year or two, and when Gary couldn’t advance his switched-on primitivism to adapt, the world moved on to soul-singing transvestites and moonwalking pedophiles and Mr. “Cars” had to sell the electric auto he used to ride around stage in to Ed Begley, Jr.

Now it’s the nineties – paranoia is a billion-dollar industry, crop circles are turning up in window boxes, and everything passé is hep again. Folks like Trent Reznor and Dave Grohl have shamelessly copped to their Numanophilia, and Beggars Banquet is so thrilled that they’ve pushed out two releases to capitalize on his alien resurrection – first a “greatest hits” collection, and now Random, a two-CD, 26-artist tribute to the Original Replicant just in time for the new millennium he monotoned about in “We Are Glass.” His songs hold up much better than they have any right to and lend themselves to varied adaptations (An Pierle finds the Tori Amos song hidden in “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and The Magnetic Fields even incorporate banjo into “I Die: You Die”!). They’re mechanically simple enough to be sort of the electro equivalent of garage rock, a fine thing that some exaggerate into techno-metal (Gravity KillsEarl Brutus) and others transmogrify into Cockney echo-rap (Underdog) or kiddie scouse-punk (Bis). Naturally, many of the usual cybersuspects (The OrbMolokoDubstar) are represented here, but, what tickles me the most is the number of early-nineties has-beens (Jesus JonesEMF, and – sorry, boss –Pop Will Eat Itself) paying homage to this early-eighties has-been. Kinda like Bill Shatner “covering” Rod McKuen. I think.